Ride On

Discussion in 'Fan Art/Fan Fiction' started by Draconias Galactica, Jan 6, 2004.

  1. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    "Hello?" asked Ryan, knocking on the door. The old shed wasn't much of a house. It was made out of a mix of wooden planks, and metal sheets, held together with rope, nails, and (in some places) dumb luck. The door was locked now, with two bricks half-submerged in holes at the base, and a plank of wood along the center.

    There were two windows, one on each side of the house. The sunlight came in from the right window in the morning, and in through the left one as it set. Near noon, it would light up the trails of dust, from cracks in the ceiling. Those would have been a problem, if there was any rain left to fall in. But, as it was, they were too small for any critters larger than a rat to get through, so there was no need to waste materials or effort repairing them.

    Dust and dirt and wind had joined forces, and, over time, taken away the original colors of the outside walls. In their place, now, was the exact same color as the dirt on the ground. From far away, one wouldn't even notice the shack. That would have been advantageous, once. But now, just about everybody who would want to know about the little house in the middle of the wastes knew about it. All the dirt on the walls did was to make it a bit harder to find.

    Four miles from civilization...or, at least, what passed as civilization anymore. It was a long walk to any shop in Mangil, usually about an hour and a half. So, there were crops growing in the rear. Corn, wheat, cabbage, some medicinal roots; essentially, anything that could be grown was being grown. There was water nearby - the small well was proof enough of that. If there wasn't, the well would have been torn down long ago. Such things were a sign of water, and a very thirsty man could be a dangerous man, especially when there was the revelation of no water at hand. Two brahmin walked around inside a pen, occasionally stopping to eat some weeds, or produce fertilizer to grow more weeds.

    All in all, as far as conditions in the wastes went, it was a good place. If it had been in an actual town, well...well, depending on how one viewed things, it could be better or worse in a town. The risks out in the wastes were a lot similar to the risks inside a city, except that there was a greater likelihood of animal attacks. Raiders, thieves, heartless bastards, they would have a field day with such a place. And that was just because of the view from the outside. If they knew what sort of things were on the inside, an attack wouldn't just be likely - it would be inevitable.

    But while few people knew what was inside, everybody who had an ear for stories knew who. Even the geckos, the rats, the various pestering creatures all strayed from that place. For humans, it was because of the tales. For critters, it was a subtle sense in the air. Both translated to danger. Both helped keep the place safe.

    Most of the time, at least. And so Ryan knocked on the door again. "Hey Shan, it's me!" he shouted, not sure if she was on the ground floor, or in the basement.

    A quick glance at Ryan, at the way he stood, at the way he carried his face, at the gear he adorned himself with, at the very impressive weapons slung over his back, was all one needed to know everything one needed to know about Ryan. And that was, keep away. Trouble. A man who not only knows how to use a gun well, but was more than willing to, at any time. He was the type that survived, and made sure that those who threatened his survival did not.

    And there was a name that came to mind when looking at Ryan. A simple corruption of his true name, but one that carried a lot more meaning than it. Ride On. As in, if you challenge him, he'll be the one to ride on into the sunset. And he did - he always did. Ride On's reputation didn't reveal how often Ryan barely got away, in more ways than one. It didn't tell how he had wound up being Ride On. It didn't tell why he kept going back to that shack in the middle of nowhere.

    All it told was that he would keep riding on (even though he had no vehicle). And that you keep the hell away from that shack.

    "C'mon Shan, open up already!" he shouted again, knocking on the door. If he wanted to, he could easily go in through the windows. Though he wasn't the strongest man around, he could still just go through the door, without waiting for it to be opened. But his father had taught him a few things (very few things), and one of them was that it was rude to bust down a lady's door without the intention of rebuilding it. There were two things Ride On was notoriously good at - surviving, and nearly chopping off body parts trying to build anything.

    There were footsteps, from the inside. They stopped at the door, just as the small wooden slit near the top slid open. A pair of eyes, green eyes, almost glowing, asked "Ryan?"

    "Hey Shan. Can you open up?" Ryan quickly looked back over his shoulder. Getting there had taken longer than he had expected, since some of them had decided to head out early. They didn't get far, but they did slow Ryan down. Another reason he was called Ride On was that he traveled so fast, it was like he really was riding a vehicle. After that, he had traveled even faster. But he was still worried that he wouldn't have enough time.

    "Sure, gimme a minute." Ryan could hear her step down off the bricks, and slide them away. Shannon was short, only barely taller than five feet. At one point, her hair had been longer than her whole body. Now, it was only about two feet long, but it would outgrow her fairly quickly. Her hair always did grow fast, Ryan remembered. It took her a while to get the board up off the rack. She was never very strong, either, and the plank was a very sturdy fifteen pounds. There wasn't much doubt in anybody's mind that Shannon was frail. Physically, at least.

    The door opened, and Ryan quickly brought his head back around. It was bad enough for him to be nervous - there was no reason for Shannon to be as well. Of course, she had to know why he was here. Ever since she moved out to that shack, there had been only one time when he had visited her for a different reason. She always seemed optimistic when he came over. Seemed optimistic, being the important phrase - it was hard to get inside of Shannon's head. She had spent a lot of time making sure of that.

    "Well, come in," she said, motioning towards the inside, smiling. "Sit down already!" Ryan always had to wait for somebody's permission before entering their home. It was another holdover, back from when he still listened to his father. He walked inside, after a very quick glance over his shoulder, and Shannon closed the door behind him.

    The small shed's inside consisted of three rooms - two and one half, depending on who counted. A main room, a kitchen (with stairs to the basement), and a bathroom. They were in the main room, filled with various pieces of furniture. A blue, pre-war, slightly broken couch stood against the center wall (normally), facing the right window. Depending on the time of day, it could be used as a bed, or three chairs, since it was segmented. There was also a table, a very sturdy, round, wooden table. Carl had spent months working on it, and Ryan spent months recovering from the wounds he received over it. Shannon once joked that Ryan's biggest contribution to helping build the table was turning it upside down, since the side that was originally going to be the top was covered with several of his bloodstains. Carl's natural knack for carpentry let them salvage the project, without having to look at dried blood every time they ate.

    The couch segments, the three of them, were spread around the table in a T formation. There had never been any need to bring a fourth chair to the table. Greg was long since gone by the time they finished it. And the frequent visitations they received were never interested in sitting.

    Ryan sat down at the end closest to the door, and placed his backpack on the table. The two riffles on his back, and the gun on his belt, he laid down onto the floor, as a courtesy rather than habit. Shannon sat down at the opposite end. Already on the table was a loaf of bread, and two small ears of corn. It was not much, but given the growing conditions in the wasteland, it was a good haul. Out of his backpack, Ryan pulled out two water flasks, and the pre-scorched bodies of two lizards. As he did, he realized that she had set the table - that she had known he was coming.

    "So you still don't know how to cook, huh?" asked Shannon, a teasing grin on her face. As usual, she was hiding something, in a way. If she knew he was coming, than she would know what was going to happen soon. It wasn't a time for laughing matters, and she knew it.

    "Well - no. Not really," Ryan replied, almost laughing. Joking, or laughing, or anything of the sort was not something Ryan attempted often, or with much success. Not in a while, at least. He passed one of the charred lizards and a water flask down to Shannon. As she reached for the bread, Ryan quickly glanced out the window. The window wasn't exactly clean, but from what he could see, everything was clear outside.

    "Do you like it?"

    "Hmm? What?"

    "The clock," Shannon said, pointing to just below the window. There was a wooden crate underneath it, the post-war equivalent of a shelf. On top of it was a small clock, which was still ticking, amazingly enough. It was dirty, the glass covering the face was cracked, and the minute hand was broken in half, making it even smaller than the hour hand. But those were the conditions that pre-war objects usually came in.

    Cursing himself silently for being caught (or at least nearly), Ryan said, "Yeah, it's nice. Where'd you find it?"

    "It was buried a few inches beneath the dirt in the garden. You know, over that spot where I could never grow anything?"

    "Huh. I always thought there was something strange about that." Ryan also thought it was strange that she decided to keep it directly underneath the window. It was almost a too-convenient way to avoid an awkward situation. But he dismissed the thought as just his normal paranoia, and refocused on the conversation.

    " - so I just pulled the twig out of the gears, and it started up again. How about that?"

    "How about that," Ryan agreed. He forced himself to look away from the clock - from the window - and look back at Shannon. She had already started eating, though she deliberately avoiding the charred remains of the iguana. Ryan took a few small bites from his lizard, immune to his own lack of cooking skill by now. The clock continued on, filling up and measuring the silence, to Ryan's chagrin. Tick, tick. Tick, tick. Tick, tick -

    "So how have things been going out here?" he asked. He took a quick swig from his flask, wishing he could have brought something less watered-down than plain water. But alcohol and business rarely mixed well for him.

    "Fine, fine," replied Shannon. "It didn't seem like all the corn was going to take root this time, but it worked out."

    It had been almost four months since he last visited, Ryan remembered. The fertilizer he had made and buried should have helped the current crop. It bordered on cannibalism, but it only bordered. "That's good."

    Tick, tick, tick, tick -

    "Did you bring anything special this time?" asked Shannon.

    "Well, I don't know about special, but I did find something a few days ago you might like." He reached into his backpack, and dug around. Those that tried to interfere with Ride On's survival inevitably stopped surviving themselves. And, by the rules of the wastes, the dead had no claim to their gear. Ryan also occasionally dug around caves and old city ruins, looking for vaults or anything pre-war. All he ever walked away with was trinkets - the vaults were well hidden. Still, some people liked things like those, and were more than willing to pay for them. It made money, and that kept his guns loaded and him alive.

    After digging around for a few seconds, he found what he had went in after. "Here," Ryan said, pulling out a book. He handed it over to Shannon, who quickly dusted off the ill-kempt cover. Ryan could read, mostly thanks to Shannon's insistent nagging when they were younger, but he didn't bother wasting time reading books. He preferred magazines; short articles, illustrations, and direct-to-the-point. Shannon, though, read everything short of the letters in Kat's Paw Magazines. She especially loved books; the longer and more complicated, the better. "I figured you might want another one of these. It didn't make any sense to me, though. Weird story. Your type of stuff."

    For reasons that escaped Ryan, Shannon started laughing, stopping only long enough to get out, "It's a dictionary!"

    "What? Who's that? I don't know authors like you do, is his stuff supposed to not make sense or something?"

    "It's not - it's not a story!" she said, in-between laughs. "It tells what words mean!"

    Ryan blinked a few times, dumbfounded. "Why would anybody have something like that?" He sat, indignant, with his arms crossed, as Shannon continued laughing. "C'mon Shan, what is it really?"

    "That's - that's what it is! Honest!" she said, her laughter finally subsiding. She stood up, the book in her hand. "Thank you, for the book. It'll come in handy for some of those books I have." She turned around, and walked over to the bookshelf. It was seven feet tall, and nearly filled with different books. Some she bought off of merchants, some she got from Ryan or Carl, some she just found lying around, back when she was still inside Mangil.

    "Do you need some help with that?" Ryan asked, noticing the only clear spots were near the top, about a foot out of Shannon's reach.

    "Um, could you help me move my chair?" she replied, straining and grinning at the same time. It took Shannon some time - a long time - to realize the best way to deal with her shortness wasn't to pout or be defensive whenever it was mentioned, but to laugh about it. She tried - tried - to apply that philosophy wherever she could.

    "Yeah, sure thing Shan." Ryan got up, and walked around to the other side of the table. The couch segment wasn't exactly heavy, but Shannon would have problems with it. Ryan easily pulled it the four feet over to the bookcase.

    "Thanks." She stepped up onto the chair, and reached for the top shelf. Tick, tick, tick -

    "Hey Shan?" Ryan asked, looking away towards the door. He figured, now was as good a time as any.

    "Yeah?" Shannon started pushing books aside - even on the top shelf, she was running out of room.

    "Did you ever think about...y'know, moving to a different town? Someplace distant from Mangil?"

    She stopped shifting books around, and remained still, her arms still extended. Her neck slowly arced down, until she was looking at her feet. It was a question Ryan had always meant to ask before, but never found the chance to. Or the nerve. Still, with all the time he had thought about asking it, it would have been nice if he had found a way to phrase it less bluntly.

    Tick, tick, tick, tick -

    "...sometimes," she muttered. If Ryan hadn't been standing at the base of the chair, he wouldn't have been able to hear her. "But...I don't know. Maybe...maybe Greg'll come back some day. And you might..."

    "But without Carl around...I don't think it would work anymore." He kept staring away at the door. Greg had left through that door. And, not long from now, he'd have to leave through there again, as well.

    "It could work!" she shouted. Shannon still believed in her brother's plan, most likely. "We can still do it! And besides..." she trailed off again. Ryan continued to look at the door, almost preferring what was out there to what was inside, for once.

    Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick -

    "Besides - I don't see why we can't at least try. Carl...he would have wanted..."

    "I know all about what Carl wanted," Ryan sighed. "But this is the best that I can do. Maybe, if he was still around, we could pull it off. But even when he was...it still wasn't much of a chance to begin with."

    "Maybe." They continued standing, neither looking at each other, neither moving from where they stood.

    Tick, tick, tick, snap. It was the sound of a piece of wood breaking, outside. It was time.

    "Well Shannon, thank you for the meal," Ride On said, as his voice dropped an octave. He walked over to where this guns lay, and picked them up. One of the reasons Ride On continued to survive was that he had figured out how to use a hunting riffle and a shotgun together at the same time. That, and (maybe) the fact that he needed to.

    "It seems we have company," observed Ride On, looking out the still-open slit in the door. There were about seven, a good sized group. Last time, though, it had only been five. It wouldn't be easy. "I'll go take care of them. Goodbye."

    "Ryan," Shannon muttered, her voice trembling, almost cracking.

    "Not right now," muttered Ryan, his voice in the same state, looking down. He shook his head, straightened up, opened the door, and shut it behind him. Calm as day.

    Shannon collapsed down into her chair, and continued to just stare down at her feet. From the outside, she could hear voices.

    "We're here for the witch!" one shouted. She didn't recognize the speaker, but she had heard it before. She had heard it too many times before. "Hand her over, and - "

    "You're here to die," Ride On shouted, interrupting, "so shut up and die!" There was gunfire, and it began once again.

    ---------------

    More to follow...eventually. Maybe. How should I know?!
     
  2. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    I am...UPON FIRE!!! WHOO!!! Anyways, here is part 2. Continuity? Nah, who needs that?

    ---------------------

    Ride On unstrapped his riffle, and placed it down on the table. It was a good weapon - good for fighting at a distance, and it worked relatively well up-close. And it was built well, too; it had only jammed on him once before. His father knew how to pick his weapons.

    Checking it over again seemed to be redundant, but he pulled the clip out of the magazine, and made sure it was filled. He had done so five times already that day. It was a good way to kill time when one woke up before dawn, and didn't like fighting in the dark. 10 bullets, just like last time. He wasn't expecting it to change, but the more he checked it, the more confident he became. And he needed his confidence right now.

    Assured that his hunting riffle was working, he pushed it over to the side and went for his shotgun. Normally, bringing this much firepower into a hotel was a sure-fire way to get kicked out. But Ride On was an exception - the people of Mangil all knew what he was trying to do. And that he didn't like anybody interfering with his business. Last time, two people had approached Ride On about helping him take care of that witch. They both barely crawled away. He got in trouble for it - a minor jail sentence - but it got the point across. Ride On works alone. And few people other than himself went after the witch because of it.

    As he expected, his shotgun was filled with its eight shells. It was a messy weapon, and it didn't have much range, but it was good for balancing out the rifle's up-close weakness. If he had three arms, he would have been using his pistol as well. The more firepower, the better in this case. He was up against something that wasn't completely human.

    It had been eight months since his last attempt. The last time he went to that shed in the middle of nowhere, they must have known he was coming. There was nobody there. Everything that was supposed to be inside, though, was - they were going to come back. Ride On could have just sat down on the couch, and waited for the door to open. And he did; for a time, at least.

    But the wind outside...and the way the moon was lighting up everything...it was just too much. His natural paranoia was making every creaking noise the shed made a threat, sneaking up on him, waiting for him to let down his guard. And he knew he couldn't stay awake forever. After the sun went down, he managed to hold out for an hour - nearly twenty minutes more than his attempt before that one. But he had to get out of there. He never did like the dark.

    As usual, something came up. The next day, he was talking to a merchant, when the trader brought up a man he had seen on his route. He matched Greg's description completely. Tall, very tall, with hair only growing on one side of his skull. Two scars on the backs of each of his hands, holdovers from his initiation rites. Those stupid, thick-rimmed glasses with no lenses that he always wore, because he thought they made him look smarter. It was Greg, all right.

    Ride On took off right there. He had been searching for Greg for nearly three years - just after his dad died. A lot happened those few months, three years ago. It was also around that time that he started being called "Ride On". All because of her.

    Greg was the only person Ride On was willing to work with on this. One of the only three other people who would even know why he was after that witch in the first place. But Ride On never found anybody else who had seen Greg. He traveled the merchant's route, nearly 1,000 miles of twisting paths and strange loops. And that merchant was the only one who had seen Greg. He could have covered the area faster if he wanted, but...but he didn't. And he knew why.

    Ride On looked up from his shotgun, and gazed blankly out the window. Part of him wanted to just stay there, in Mangil. He had been spending way too much time away for his own liking. But still, Ride On knew that was just an excuse - partially, at least - to delay his meeting with the witch. And the longer he stayed, the more likely they were to get word that he was back in town again. Ride On had no desire to spend the night fearing his own shadow again.

    It was nearly noon. Now was as good a time as any to get moving. Ride On picked up his riffle and shotgun, and slung them both over his back on his right shoulder. He picked up his backpack, and hung that over his left. He hadn't checked the 14mm pistol on his belt just then, but the seven separate checks he did perform earlier seemed to indicate it was full. There was just one thing left on the table - his good-luck charm, a quarter with two tails. That's all they were good for anymore, besides the metal they were made of.

    "Good luck," Ride On muttered, as he chuckled quietly. He didn't know why he continued to use the quarter for luck, but he could never bring himself to leave it behind. He placed it back in his pocket, and walked out the door.

    In the lobby, people stepped out of his way as he approached. It wasn't just the weapons he was carrying, or the stories they had heard about him - it was the aura he seemed to project. He was on a mission, and anybody who even approached getting in his way was dead. He moved through them quickly, and stopped only to drop off a few coins at the front desk.

    For most, to get from Mangil to the shed in the middle of nowhere would have taken well over an hour. But Ride On didn't waste any time like most. His trip only took about 45 minutes. It had been less than a day since he returned yesterday - the witch didn't know he was coming. At least, he hoped she didn't.

    She was in the back garden, tending to the cornstalks. A few years ago, Ryan had helped her with the first crop of corn. It had taken months to track down seeds for them - Mangil and most of the surrounding towns grew only wheat or cabbage, not corn. And it wasn't cheap either, but Greg was more than willing to throw his pay into Carl's "stupid little project", as Greg often put it. When they first started out, it seemed like it would work.

    But that was five years ago. A long, long time ago.

    As usual, she was humming while she gardened. She only knew one song, but -

    "Hey," said Carl, slapping his hand on Ride On's back as he passed by.

    "...hey," Ryan muttered. He had hoped that Carl was out. He had been, apparently, but Ride On was too slow to take advantage of it. His old friend was probably the last person he wanted to see at that point.

    "So, what brings you out here?" Carl asked, as he walked in-between Ride On and the garden. Casually, it seemed, since Ride On was facing that way. But his true intention was very clear.

    "I'm here to see her," Ride On said, pointing over Carl's shoulder. Over them, Shannon continued to tinker with her garden, seemingly oblivious to their presence.

    Carl smiled faintly, his eyes close. It was the closest he came to actually showing happiness anymore. "Yeah, that's what I thought." He opened his eyes, and looked directly into Ride On's. "Do you mind coming inside first?"

    "Why?"

    "For old time's sake. Plus, I have some things I want to talk to you about."

    Ride On looked over Carl's shoulder, at Shannon. Her back was turned to them, but it was still likely she knew they were there. And hesitating would only give her more time to prepare, making it so that he was even less likely to succeed. But...

    "Sure, fine," muttered Ryan. His hand slid off the handle of his pistol, just as he realized that it had been on the handle. Carl turned around, and gestured with his hand towards the shed. The two of them walked up to the door, both making no noise. Both looking at Shannon the whole time. She still had her back to them, humming away, but the sound of the door opening and closing almost certainly alerted her to their presence. But by that time, they were already inside.

    In the center of the room was the table the two of them had made, roughly three years ago. Just before everything fell apart, the two of them finally managed to make something of the plan come together. It hadn't been easy - a quick look at the underside could say that - but it had been nice to actually believe that Carl's plan had been advancing forward. It had been a good day for the two -

    For all three of them.

    There were two couch segments at opposite ends of the table. Ryan sat down at the end facing the door, with the window to his right. That meant that he had his back turned to Shannon at that moment, but at least he had a good view of where she would have to enter. After all, she wouldn't risk knocking down a wall - the whole shed could collapse.

    Carl remained standing. "Can I get you some water or something?"

    "No thanks," Ryan said.

    "C'mon, you sound hoarse. It's not like I poisoned it or anything."

    "I never said you did."

    Carl's expression quickly turned to one of rage, and he slammed his fist down onto the table. "Look! I'm trying my hardest to ignore the fact that you're here to kill my sister, the least you could do is try to be a bit courteous about that! I mean, didn't your dad every teach you anything about..." He trailed off, before plumping down into his seat.

    "Well, so much for tact," he muttered.

    "Get to the point," Ryan spat out through clenched teeth. "What did you want to talk about?"

    "The point...? Oh yeah. That. I want you to leave my sister alone."

    "Go to hell," Ride On said as he stood up.

    "Sit down!" Carl said, his voice very firm. Ryan did so, though the expression on his face made it clear that he wasn't going to obey his friend again. "Now listen. You and Shannon want to hate each other? That's fine with me, I don't care about that anymore! But I want you to stop coming here to kill her!"

    "Why should I?!"

    "Because it won't change a damn thing!!" Carl sprung to his feet, and, with a strength that his somewhat-lanky body hid well, flipped over the table in one swift move. Ryan stood up as well, sitting seeming to be a somewhat silly thing to continue doing. "You see this?!" he asked, pointing to the underside of the table. Ryan's bloodstains were still there, a sort of deep brown hue at that point. "I don't want to see this sort of crap anymore! Not from you, not from her!"

    "It's too late for that!"

    "No it's not! I already lost my little sister and my best friend, but at least I'm trying to fix things! I've been trying to get her back every day for I don't even know how long anymore! And you, all you're doing is just throwing some sort of fit like when you were a kid!!"

    "This isn't just 'one of my fits'! In case you hadn't noticed, my dad is dead! He's gone, and I can't get him back!"

    "Then why are you still coming after my sister?! It's not going to fix anything!!"

    "What, do you just want me to say 'Oh, sorry about all that, my dad's dead but everything's okay now'?! That's not gonna happen!!"

    "I'm not asking you to forgive her, I'm telling you to just leave her be!" Carl sighed, and collapsed back into his chair. The two of them remained motionless for a good deal of time. Ride On staring down at Carl, Carl staring down at the floor.

    "I'm tired of this," Carl muttered, breaking the silence. "Do you know how many times I've had conversations like this with Shannon? Every time one of those idiots from Mangil comes around, she wants to kill them. Every time we hear you're in or around town, she wants to go off and kill you. But every time that does happen, she spends the whole night afterwards in the corner, shaking and pretending to sleep. She's still afraid of you. She's trying to act defiant and all, but she's scared shitless over fighting with you or any of those others. I mean...I'm trying to get her back, to the way she used to be, right? But every time one of you comes around, she's slipping further back to the way she was three years ago. I don't want to see her like that again."

    Ride On remained silent, still staring down at Carl.

    "And even if you do kill her - and most likely, if you do fight, it'll be you that gets killed. I mean, you've tried how many times now? Even if you do...then what?! Your dad's still dead, the plan's still ruined, and everything's gone completely down the crapper! What then, huh?!"

    "Then...then I'll move on. It'll finally be over."

    "Why don't you just do that now?!" Carl asked, looking up. Ride On continued to stare down at him, offering no answer but the look in his eyes. A grim, unyielding look.

    Outside, clouds started rolling in. Dark and heavy clouds...the type one wouldn't normally find in the wasteland. "Oh shit," both Carl and Ride On muttered, for different reasons. Ride On rushed out the door, pulling his hunting riffle off his back. As he did, Carl slowly got to his feet and started walking.

    Behind her garden, Shannon was waiting. The clouds were moving quicker now, filling the sky around the shack. Ride On ran backwards 25 feet from the door, until he felt he was a safe distance away. Shannon's powers worked best up close. He had seen them enough times to know that.

    Her eyes were glowing green. Normally, they always seemed almost illuminated, but now they were clearly giving off light. Her arms were extended outward, palms open towards Ride On. He wasted no time raising his hunting riffle and setting the crosshair directly to the center of her chest.

    Ride On fired off two rounds, but he knew that wouldn't matter. The shots had been perfectly aimed, but the bullets both struck the dirt in front of Shannon's feet. Cursing, he fired twice more. Each bullet veered slightly off course as it approached Shannon, missing her completely by the time they reached where she stood.

    He would have to get in closer if he was going to use his shotgun. With enough pellets flying through the air, Shannon wouldn't be able to alter all of them properly. Ride On dropped his hunting riffle onto the ground, and charged forward. As he reached for his shotgun, the ground underneath him began to shake. Before he had time to leap out of the way, the very dirt he was running over exploded into the air, sending him flying. He fell down from almost seven feet up, down onto his chest.

    As Ride On got back up, he realized his shotgun had fallen off his shoulder before he could grab it while he was still in the air. Cursing again, he pulled out his 14mm pistol, and quickly scanned for Shannon. She was still in the same spot, though that spot was now only about 15 feet away.

    And just as Ride On was pulling back on the trigger, and Shannon's eyes began glowing even brighter, Carl rushed in-between them. "Stop!" he shouted. Ride On barely had enough time to swing his gun away, sending the bullet that would have gone straight into Carl into the dirt.

    "Move Carl!" shouted Shannon. Her hair was flapping wildly to a wind that didn't seem to affect anyone else, and the palms of her hands almost seemed to be glowing. But Carl shook his head.

    "I'm not going to watch either one of you get killed! Now stop this!" Carl wasn't as tall as Greg or even Ride On - it seemed to run in his family - but he was still tall enough to completely block out any clear shot Ride On had for Shannon. Likewise, Shannon couldn't see over him enough to focus onto Ride On.

    "Move damnit!" Ride On exclaimed, constantly moving his gun around, trying to get a clear shot. "She's a threat to everyone! She doesn't feel a damn thing!"

    "He'll come after you next!" Shannon said, almost at the same time. "He'll never leave us alone!"

    "Will you two just listen to yourselves?!" Carl screamed, still not moving. "I'm not letting you go through with this! It's over, now, understand?!"

    "It's not over until she's dead!" replied Ride On, and he rushed around Carl in a 90 degree arc. Shannon hadn't expected Ride On to go against his old friend, and was caught off guard. She had no time to move before Ride On raised his gun to point towards her chest. Ride On pulled the trigger, and fired.

    Five seconds later, they both noticed that Shannon wasn't bleeding. And that Carl's leg was. Just as she had deflected the bullet at the last minute, Carl had pushed her away. He was lying on the ground where Shannon had been just a split-second ago.

    "Carl!" they both exclaimed. Ryan almost rushed over, but Shannon's shock wore off quicker, and she was the one to hurry over to her brother. Her eyes had dulled back to their normal state, and her hair was once again obeying the natural laws. Carl just shook her off, though.

    A moment later, he got back up on his feet, his leg clearly giving him no small amount of grief over it. He walked over, slowly, unsteadily, to where midway between Shannon and Ride On was now. "I'm sick of this," he muttered, his teeth clenched, his face a grimace of pain. "I'm sick of it, you hear me?! You two want to fight each other, you go through me first! At least that way, I won't have to see this sort of shit anymore."

    Ride On raised his gun back up, not sure when his arm had dropped. "Don't kid around with me Carl," he said, in a low voice.

    "I'm not kidding," spat out Carl, hobbling up to Ride On. Ride On stood in shock, as Carl grabbed his arm and shoved the gun into his stomach. "C'mon, you want to shoot her? You shoot me first! That's the only way I'm letting you get anywhere near her!"

    Behind his back, Shannon stood back up. Her teeth were clenched together tightly, and her breathing was heavy. The glow that had temporarily left her eyes had returned, even more so now. "You!" Carl shouted, looking over his shoulder. "Stay right there!" He had only two things that he could back up his command with, that would have any affect on Shannon. The first was the tone in his voice, making it very clear there was no room for discussion. The second was his face, a mix of anger, disgust, and pain. There was no hint of mercy at all anymore, just enraged weariness. She remained where she was.

    Carl turned his head back around, and stared into Ride On's face. "And you...get out of here. I don't ever want to see you here again."

    Ride On sighed, and slowly pulled his gun away from Carl. "This isn't over yet," he muttered, as he turned his back.

    "Yes it is. Now go."

    Slowly, Ride On walked away from the shed. As he did, he muttered, "I'll be back. Just you wait and see." And equally as slowly, the clouds overhead dispersed.
     
  3. Rogue Hex

    Rogue Hex Look, Ma! Two Heads!

    353
    Apr 10, 2003
    Nice work, an interesting plot you got going there. Liked the witch part although a little confused...

    Err, be sure to keep up the "continuity" so we can keep reading!

    Ciaos
     
  4. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    I'm trying something a bit different this time. I'm scrambling the parts all over the place, for dramatic effects and what not. Nothing will be in order, but it should be pretty apparent when what takes place. Or maybe it won't, who knows? Either way, blame Palahniuk.
     
  5. Gruug

    Gruug Look, Ma! Two Heads!

    340
    Nov 7, 2003
    Yes, a bit confusing.
     
  6. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    Hah? You think this is confusing! Then try looking at my punctuation here??? HAHAHAHA???

    Moving on, I promise this will all make sense by the end. Wait - no. No I don't. I promise it will have an end, and that it will come at the end. You'll get nothing more and like it! HAHAHAHA!!!

    -----------------

    Part 3

    Ryan woke with the sun shining directly in his eyes. He always woke like that, except when he slept until late afternoon. There was nothing that could be done about the sun, though, besides build another wall. The entire corner of his room, and most of the roof, was missing. But that was the condition pre-war ruins came in; the good ones, at least.

    The sunlight was shining in through the missing corner and roof, straight onto Ryan's mat. It was a good way to stay awake in the morning, since it was impossible to go back to sleep with that much light shining directly into his face. Grumbling, he rolled off the mat, and began the slow, meticulous process of standing up.

    If it was never clear to him before that he couldn't hold his drinks worth crap, it was definitely clear to him now. Normally that wasn't a problem - there were more important things to spend his cash on than watered-down drinks. But Greg insisted on celebrating his immanent promotion. Ryan shuddered to think what sort of party he would throw if he became one of the head honchos out in west Mangil someday.

    Even before putting on the rest of his clothes besides his pants, Ryan started rummaging through his pile of knick-knacks for a pair of sunglasses. The sun was never very considerate of those who were recovering. It took him a while - Ryan was very good at scavenging up old junk, but not very good at selling it off - before he managed to gather up enough accessories to dull out the sun. Sunglasses, a very large hat (som...something was what Shannon had called it), and a hand placed over his forehead made up his defense against the excessive lighting conditions.

    "It's about time you got up!" shouted a voice from downstairs. No doubt Michael, his father, had heard him dig through his vast pile of crap. "Get down here already!"

    "Right, right," Ryan muttered, wishing he had kept that broken-down pair of headphones he sold last week. He wasn't doing too well with sound, apparently, either.

    Downstairs, Michael was cooking a pair of skinned lizards and rats over the firepit. For a moment, Ryan thought his nose was in as bad a shape as his eyes and ears, before remembering that his father's iguana/rat recipe always smelled that bad. Fortunately for both of their sakes, the stomach didn't mind nearly as much as the nose.

    "What did I tell you about getting drunk?" Michael asked, not looking away from the stone firepit.

    "Yeah, sorry. I only had two, though."

    "And what did I tell you about drinking period? Nobody in our family's ever had any luck with it. It's genetic or something. The sooner you learn not to drink, the happier your mornings will be." He sounded more annoyed than angry. Fortunately for Ryan, he was good at not loosing his temper. Most of the time, at least.

    "Right," muttered Ryan, as he plopped down onto the table. Salvaged, like most everything else in their home. It wasn't a very large house, but it was spacious enough for two people - three, a long time ago - to live in without being at each other's throats all the time.

    "Anyways, you still planning to trade in some of that junk today?"

    "Yeah, that one guy, Tony? He's supposed to stop here today." Tony was a merchant who traveled all across the wastes. Mangil was a popular stopover, since it had two very important things to offer - food, and water. Tony wasn't the friendliest person to deal with, but he paid well, once one knew how to make him want what one had.

    "Well watch yourself. Guy like that'll notice how hammered you are in a second. Start trying to rip you off."

    "He always tries to rip me off. That's how guys like him make money."

    "Let this be a lesson, though - business and alcohol don't mix."

    "I think I've heard that one before." Ryan had actually heard all of his father's sayings, since he was so fond of repeating them at any possible opportunity. There weren't a whole lot of them, but they were good, simple guidelines. The fact that Michael had lived by them his whole life, and was still actively living, was proof enough that they worked.

    "I think I might've said it once or twice before. Maybe, I could be getting senile in my old age. Go get some water."

    "Right, right," Ryan said, as he picked up the barrel from underneath the table.

    There were two wells in the west part of Mangil. Water might not have been raining from the sky, but there was certainly enough of it in the ground to go around. The closest one was little more than two blocks away - or what had once been two blocks, at least. Along the way, several of the townsfolk decided to point out Ryan's strange choice of dress to him.

    "I'm not blind, you know!" he shouted at one of them, as he neared the well.

    "Well, that's debatable," said a voice from behind him. Ryan whirled around, fist raised and waiting to punch out whoever it was -

    "Oh, Carl, hey, it's you," he muttered, a split second before he was about to punch him.

    "Woah, enough with the fist stuff already," Carl replied. "Who did you think I was?"

    "I don't know, man, my senses are all out of whack right now. Hey, wait."

    "What?"

    "How did I get home last night? All I remember is Greg patting my back too hard, and me collapsing onto the table."

    "Oh. That. Me and Shan dragged you home."

    "You and Shan? Why the hell didn't Greg do it? It's not like you two have a lot of muscle between you. No offense or anything"

    "Greg still had to pay, remember? Besides, he had some more business to take care of. Being the boss ain't easy, huh?" Carl's tone on the last part reinforced something they both already knew - that Carl didn't like Greg's business. While Greg was the one who was paying for most of Carl's "project", none of them were sure if he was even going to be involved in it beyond that. It was hard to tell, since he was deliberately evasive about any of his plans for the future.

    Carl had made it very clear that he was dedicated to his project, but everybody knew that from the start. It was his idea, after all. Shannon followed her older brother's lead, and was also definitely in it for the long run. And Ryan had nearly cut off his own arm trying to make a table with Carl, just some additional furniture for the shed that had nearly killed him constructing already. He was in as well. But even if Greg was in, nobody knew if he could pull out of his gang, the Colts, so easily. Especially now, that he was going to be near or at the top.

    "Anyways," Ryan spoke up, aware that there had been an awkward silence for a good five seconds or so between them, "I got to go get this water back before my dad bites my head off. And you need to hurry up and finish that shed so I can move out of there already!"

    "Yeah, yeah, I know. It just ain't easy with only the three of us most of the time. Oh yeah, that reminds me - Shan wanted to see you about something when you came back to life. Stop by later, all right?"

    "Sure thing. I'll see you later Carl."

    "Yeah, see you." Carl walked off, back towards his house. It was just him and Shannon there, ever since their parents died four or five years back. About the same time Carl started talking about his project, which probably wasn't a coincidence. Initially, Ryan and Greg had gotten involved just to help out Carl and Shannon. Ryan had his trading, and Greg had his pay from the Colts, which, combined with Carl's odd carpentry jobs and Shannon's innate knack for haggling, was enough for the two of them to keep going without resorting to anything drastic. Ryan was actually the only one of them left that had any parents still living at all. It wasn't a problem, since they were all in their late teens, early twenties, but it would have been nice if things were different.

    Not wanting to waste any more time, and definitely hungry, Ryan quickly filled the barrel with water from the well. A few people had tried to control the wells in the past, but there had been enough deaths over that to deter any present attempts. Even the gangs from the west side of town fought against anybody who tried to take control. The leaders of those groups had all known that controlling water was going a bit too far.

    With the barrel filled, Ryan began dragging it back towards the house. It took him nearly twice as long going back as it did to get there. The barrel held about only three gallons, but it was unwieldy to carry, and rolling it ran the risk of springing a leak. Fortunately, three gallons between just two people lasted usually two to three days.

    When Ryan finally returned, the iguana and rat bits had finished cooking. His father had already started eating. "Here, bring that over," he said, lifting his cup off the table. There wasn't much silverware to go around, but people still managed to salvage - or make - cups and plates. Hunting knives could be used as regular knives, with some caution. A bit of skill with whittling could give one a wooden spoon or fork, if one could find a good piece of wood.

    Michael dunked his cup in, and filled it with water, drinking it down quickly. Ryan sat down, and began picking into his lizard/rat platter.

    "Hey, I'm gonna head over to Shan's before I meet up with Tony," Ryan said, more to let his father know what was going on that day than to ask permission.

    "Yeah, sure. Just remember what I've told you. Never - "

    "Dad? I've heard this speech before." He wasn't sure which one it was specifically, but it was definitely one of the sayings about women. He had them all, the ones about women and the ones not, memorized by now, just from hearing them so often.

    "You have? When? Are you saying I'm getting senile or something?"

    "No, you said that earlier, remember?"

    "Okay, that's enough! Get the hell out of my house!" He pointed to the door, a faint hint of a smile on his face. "And don't come back until you make some real money for a change!"

    "Yeah, yeah," Ryan said, getting up, also faintly smiling. He had learned that his father was rarely serious about such threats, as well as how far to stay away when he was. Ryan grabbed what remained of his cooked lizard, and walked out the door. Tony would be in later on that afternoon, before which his father would leave for work sometime. He could gather up his crap to sell then.

    Michael worked as a farmhand for one of the larger farms on the north side of town. Most of the time, he would help out with the brahmin, or keep hostile critters - human and otherwise - away from the food. He couldn't make anything grow to save his life, though. Which was fitting, considering that his son couldn't build anything for the exact same conditions. It probably was genetic.

    Carl and Shannon lived near that farm, on the north side of town. Mangil was not a large city, like some of the vast trading empires to the west, but it was larger than most in the region. So it was not surprising, especially given Ryan's unusually quick walking speed, that he met up with Carl before Carl had even gotten home.

    "Hey, wait up!" Ryan shouted, as he walked up from behind.

    Carl looked over his shoulder in surprise. "Are you that starved for attention?" he asked. "You know she's probably not even up yet."

    "Oh, shut up. I have to kill some time until Tony gets here."

    "Is he coming today?"

    "Yeah, if he doesn't get held up or something somewhere else."

    "Oh, good. I need to get some stuff off of him for the shed." The shed, or shack, or cabin, or house, depending on who one asked, was the starting block for Carl's project. He had done a good job with the planning - it was close to the major trade routes that passed through Mangil, but it was still far away enough for nobody to notice it until it was ready. And it was hard to spot, too, since it had been smeared with dirt. From a distance, one would mistake it for a hill. It was also a quick trip from Mangil, and a developing town would benefit from Mangil's resources greatly.

    That was the essence of Carl's project - to start a new town. One built not in the ruins of an old city, but an entirely new town, where there had once been nothing. The shack was just the beginning. Once they had that finished, the four of them - if Greg was willing to go that far - would move in there, and begin the project proper. They'd reach out for those on trade routes first, capable men who knew about trade and taking care of themselves & others. Then they would begin "stealing" people from Mangil, those who were growing tired of the constant ruckus on the west side of town, and those who wished to start their own farms, rather than working for one of the major ones.

    That was the plan, at least. It had taken a long time to find a good spot. To gather the materials for the shack. To figure out how to build it in the first place. When the project would take off, none of them knew. But they kept working towards it.

    The house that Carl and Shannon were living in was well kept, mostly due to the constant repairs Carl made to the place. The building was split down the middle with a separating wall, with the side that wasn't occupied in less-than-perfect shape. The two of them had been using that half of the house as well, before the walls completely collapsed. Behind the house were a few rows of wheat, still about halfway from being ready to harvest.

    Carl reached for the doorknob, but stopped suddenly. "What's up?" asked Ryan.

    "Greg's inside. I can hear his voice."

    "Huh. I figured he would have been passed out in an alley or something."

    Carl shrugged, and opened the door. Ryan, who was behind him, couldn't see what caused Carl to shout out, "Good God!", but decided rushing inside was a good idea. He pulled out his pistol out of his belt, since he knew Carl never carried a weapon on him (despite everybody else's insistence).

    Inside, Greg was sitting down on a chair facing the door, his face badly bruised. There was a trail of blood leading from the door over to where he sat. At that spot, there was a small pool collected underneath his feet. He was holding a stained cloth to the side of his head, which had apparently been his sleeve earlier. Shannon was sitting in the chair next to him, tying a bandage around his hand. His hands had never been in the best of shape - each of them were whipped twice as part of his initiation into his gang - but they looked even worse now.

    "Oh, hey guys," he said, grinning. He was missing a few teeth. "Nice hat Ryan." Both Carl and Ryan rushed over to him.

    "What happened?" asked Carl. Ryan blinked a few times, coming out of a minor daze, and rushed back over to the door to shut it. He then quickly checked out the window for anybody who looked suspicious. Even with all of Greg's experience in shoot-outs, Ryan was still the best one with a gun between the four of them. Michel knew how to use a gun, and made sure that his son knew how to as well.

    "Just a little disagreement," Greg shrugged, wincing immediately afterwards. "Hey, careful with that Shan!"

    "Then stop moving around!" protested Shannon, grabbing his arm, practically pulling him out of his chair. Shannon was the frailest of the four of them, so if she was able to pull the 6'2" Greg around, he had to be in a bad state. "Stay still already!"

    "Sorry Shan," he said, mixing a grimace with a grin. "I keep forgetting about how short your arms are."

    An exasperated, indignant look passed over Shannon's face, before she calmed down. "Normally, I'd punch you for that. But since you're injured, I don't think it would be fair right now."

    "Gee, thaOW!" Greg cried as Shannon opted to grind her shoe onto Greg's foot. He only wore sandals, for reasons the others never really understood. His fashion sense as a whole was questionable, what with the redundant broken glasses and half his head shaved. "Hey Ryan, calm down already," he said, looking over at the window. Ryan was looking out the corner of it still, both hands on his gun just below it, held at the ready. "There's nobody left to come after us."

    "What about the people who sent the people after you?" Ryan asked, not looking away from the window.

    "They'd wait until they heard back, or..." Greg chuckled. "Or, until they found the corpses. That'll take Mel a few more hours still."

    "What. Happened?" Carl asked again, emphasizing both parts.

    Greg sighed, and looked over at him. "Mel's pissed that I'm getting so high up in the gang before he did. He thinks that because he was there first, he should be higher up than me."

    "And if you and Arnold are dead, there's nobody left to take over but him," observed Ryan.

    "Yeah, that's right." Arnold had been a high-ranking member in Colts. He was second only to the big-bosses themselves. Greg had worked his way up fast, and was already directly underneath Arnold, along with another member, Mel. Arnold had been killed in a shoot-out a few days ago, and word came down that Greg was the one he said he had wanted to take over in such a case. Mel, who had been in nearly twice as long, didn't like it. But Greg thought Mel wouldn't make a move, since the person he needed to convince was already dead. Apparently, he had found a way around that.

    "Oh great," Carl muttered, leaning against the back wall. "So what are you going to do about it?"

    "I don't know," he admitted, wincing again as Shannon finished tying the bandage on his hand. "I'm not sure who's with me anymore. I mean, two of the guys that ganged up on me were supposed to be my guys! Mel did a hell of a job. The only people I know are on my side are..." He trailed off for a minute, and the way his eyes widened indicated something had clicked inside his brain. "Are you guys."

    Ryan looked away from the window, over towards Greg. "I'm in." The four of them had clearly defined roles that they all played in the group. Carl was the leader, the one who had the ideas. Shannon was the one with the social skills, for trading and selling. Greg made the big bucks, and knew how to use his influence over on the west side of Mangil. And Ryan had been the one who did the protecting. He had done so since they were all kids.

    "Thanks, but, I wasn't talking about you."

    That didn't make much sense. Ryan was well-known as one of the best shooters around, in and out of Mangil. He had taught Carl and Shannon all that they knew about defending themselves. Carl could shoot straight, but he was better when he could pick his targets, and think everything through. If they could find him a tall place to hide out in, he would definitely be helpful, but he wasn't good in a heavy fire fight. Too many variables to process at once for his liking. And Shannon couldn't shoot well at all, despite how many years Ryan had spent instructing her. She just never seemed to take well to guns, or any weapon other than her hunting spear. Besides, they had only killed animals before. Only Ryan and Greg had ki-

    "Wait, no way!" Ryan said, realizing what Greg was planning. "No way!!"

    "There's no way we'd be able to get anywhere near enough to Mel for a good shot. This is our best bet."

    "What are you talking about?" Carl asked, confused.

    "We agreed that should never happen again! Hell, we agreed we'd never even mention it again!"

    It seemed to dawn on both Carl and Shannon at the same time. Greg, Carl, and Ryan all looked over towards Shannon. She met their gazes briefly, before turning away towards the corner. They all knew she didn't like talking about what happened that day, or even having it mentioned. None of them did. They hadn't discussed her powers, even when she was around, ever since.

    "Can't you go higher up?" asked Carl, looking back towards Greg. "Ask one of the top bosses?"

    "If I did that, they'd think I was weak. They wouldn't help me; worse, they might even help Mel."

    "Argh! You never should have gotten in with those guys in the first place!"

    "Well it wasn't like I had much of a choice! I was only six, how was I supposed to turn them down? They would have killed me then and there!"

    "Just leave town then," Ryan whispered, his eyes closed. It was a bad plan, since the project depended partly on Greg, and a good deal on the money he was able to contribute. But it was still better than Greg's plan.

    "That would be desertion. They'd hunt me down. It's a bad situation - if I don't take Mel out, I'm dead. There's just no way around it."

    "Well it's still better than - "

    "I'll do it," Shannon said in a low whisper, turning away from the corner, but still not meeting any looks. "Just...just tell me what I have to do."

    "Shan, no," said Ryan, waving his palms back and forth. "This is stupid. We'll think of another way."

    "We need him...for the project. And..." She looked up from the floor towards Greg, her nearly-glowing eyes slightly moist. "And, I don't want to see Greg get killed. So I'll...I'll do it."

    Ryan shook his head as he sighed, and slowly turned back towards the window. Carl walked over to Shannon. "Are you sure about this Shan?" he asked, putting his arm around her.

    She nodded, and turned to look at him. "Yes, I'm...I'm sure. I can try, at least. I'm not sure if I can still...still do what I did before. But I...I'll try..."

    "Okay then," Greg said, standing up. "We'll need to get you there first. Ryan, can you help me out with that?" He raised his bandaged hand. "I'm not exactly in the best of shape right now."

    "Yeah, sure," he said, still looking out the window, though no longer scanning every person who passed. "Can't have any of you get killed before the big show, now can we?"

    "Good. Carl, you coming too?"

    "I might as well," he said, still holding Shannon. "Everybody else is."

    "Good, good. You two want guns or something?"

    "They won't need them," Ryan said as he walked past Greg, a strange mix of a complaint, an order, and a promise. "Now will they?" He continued on towards the door, re holstering his pistol. The others followed after him.

    ***

    Two hours later, they had finished sneaking deep into the Colt's part of west Mangil. Mel had his division's headquarters near where they were, only a block or two away. Everybody who passed on the street was likely either working for Mel, or directly underneath one of the high bosses. It was not a place for strangers to wander in to.

    That was why Ryan, Greg, Carl, and Shannon were huddled down low in a building used only for storage. The entire building was filled with crates and boxes, making it a good hiding spot. Greg had worked for the man Mel replaced, before being promoted to where Mel currently ranked, so he knew the layout of the area. It was the closest building that was safe to be in. Relatively, at least.

    "Is this close enough?" Ryan asked, growing nervous. With so many guards in the area, they wouldn't be able to fight their way out if it came to that.

    "Yes," said Shannon, in a quiet voice. "Just give me a bit of time."

    "All you need to do is snap the outer walls," repeated Greg. "The roof should collapse in. There's a lot of weight to support."

    "Are you sure he's in there?" a testy Ryan asked.

    "Yeah, I'm sure. It's the safest place for him to be in," Greg replied, a faint grin coming across his face. Carl, waiting near the door as a lookout, gave a thumbs-up; it was clear.

    Shannon got up off her knees and walked away from the center of the room, leaving the others behind. They remained quiet. She stood in front of the corner, and closed her eyes. A faint breeze passed through the room, though the walls were all solid, and the roof had no holes in it. Shannon's hair was very affected by the light wind, flapping excessively to it.

    She remained motionless for nearly a minute, her back turned towards the others. Even Carl stopped what he was doing to look at her. Then, her eyes opened. The others couldn't see it, but they could see the walls that she was facing illuminated by a green light. Just like when she had used her powers before.

    There was a colossal noise from outside the building. It was the sound of the walls of Mel's HQ cracking, and then of the roof caving in when the damaged walls could no longer support its weight. Footsteps could be heard rushing towards that area, as well as away from it.

    "Well, that's that," muttered Greg, sitting down on a crate. Carl walked over from the door, and sat down next to him.

    "Are you happy?" he asked, plainly. Ryan, not in the mood for a discussion he had heard between them several times before, walked over to Shannon.

    "I'm happy I'm not dead, if that's what you mean," replied Greg. After that, Ryan couldn't make out what they were saying precisely. He was focused on Shannon anyways. She had sat down, and was still facing the wall.

    As he came closer, Ryan could hear the faint sound of her crying. "Hey, um, are you okay?" he asked, putting his hand on her shoulder.

    As soon as he did, Shannon shook it off and got to her feet. She turned around quickly, her eyes glowing once again. Her teeth were clenched tightly, and veins in her neck were bulging. "Keep the hell away from me!" she shouted in a deep voice for her, before her eyes flashed even bright. Immediately after, Ryan found himself propelled backwards by an unseen - but not unfamiliar - force. He went crashing into a stack of crates, knocking them over onto the floor, and onto himself.

    From underneath, he could hear Shannon, her voice returned to normal, say "Ryan! Are you all right?!" Greg, Carl, and Shannon all rushed over and pushed the crates off of him. Ryan rubbed his head as he got back onto his feet.

    "Are you all right?" she asked again. He still didn't respond, merely continued to rub the side of his head.

    "We should probably get moving now," Carl pointed out, breaking the momentary silence. "While falling roofs still have their attention and all."

    "Yeah, let's go!" Greg said, walking over to the door. Carl and Shannon followed after, the latter looking back briefly at Ryan before passing through the doorway. Her eyes had gone back to their normal, only-near-glowing state. Ryan brushed himself off, and followed after.

    "That's that, indeed," he muttered as he shut the door behind himself.

    ***

    He had hoped it was, at least.

    Once again, Ryan awoke to the sun's rising, and to a hangover. The night before, Greg had decided it was time for another celebration of his good fortune. And in the five days since last he had been drunk, Ryan still hadn't learned just how low his tolerance for alcohol really was. At least this time he had remembered to leave the som-hat, whatever it was really called, and the sunglasses separate from his knick-knack pile.

    As he went downstairs, the first thing Ryan heard was, "How many times do I have to tell you?" It was Michel, naturally.

    "Wish I knew myself," he muttered as he sat down at the table. Briefly glancing over at his father, he noticed something was unusual. He was carrying his hunting riffle on his back. And he had his old leather armor on. Normally, Michel didn't walk around the house dressed for combat - it was rude, especially in the houses of others. Another one of his constantly-repeated sayings.

    "Hey, what's with the gear?" Ryan asked.

    "They have a witch problem on the north side of town. The boss wanted me and a few of the other guys to go take care of it." The word "witch" sounded familiar to Ryan, but he couldn't remember what type of animal it was. Probably a nasty one, and a hungry one, if his father was dressed like that. He would ask Shannon later. She read all the time. It was surprising the things she knew.

    "Ah," he said simply.

    "I gotta get going early today. You're on your own for breakfast. I'll see you later tonight." He headed for the door.

    "Yeah, see you later," Ryan replied, getting up as well. He'd have to go hunt down some food on his own, most likely. Since he preferred hunting in groups, he decided to go recruit Carl first. There was also the minor detail that Carl actually knew how to cook well.

    As he walked north towards where Carl lived, Ryan noticed that there were a lot more people rushing around than usual. And most of them were heading towards the north side of Mangil. Whatever those witch animals were, they seemed to have a lot of people upset.

    "Psst! Ryan!" There was somebody in the alley to his left. Turning, he saw Carl's head barely above a stack of boxes. Ryan did a quick scan of the area; if Carl was hiding, there was something going on. Seeing nobody suspicious was looking towards him, Ryan changed his course over to the alley.

    "What's going on?" he asked as he swung around to the other side of the boxes.

    "It's bad, real bad."

    "What? What is it?!"

    "Shh, keep it down! It's Greg - he got drunk last night."

    "Greg never gets drunk, when was this?"

    "After you did, and we dragged you home again. But after that, I went back to the bar; Shan left a book there, and she wasn't all that sober either. So I went back, and Greg was bragging on about how he rose up through the ranks, right?"

    "Yeah?"

    "Well, I listened in for a while, and just as I was leaving, he...oh man. He started bragging about taking down Mel!"

    "What?!" Ryan shouted, springing to his feet.

    "Keep it down already!" Carl said, pulling Ryan back down. He quickly looked over the boxes to make sure nobody was paying attention to them. "He started talking about how she used her powers and stuff. Just like the last time!"

    "Oh no," said Ryan, the color draining from his face. Something similar had happened once before, when Shannon used her powers. Greg had gone around blabbing about it to some of the higher-ups in the Colts, just as a story to tell. Not long after, rumors about somebody with the power to kill with their mind started floating around, and Ryan literally had to beat Greg's mouth shut. A few people suspected Shannon, but she was just a harmless little girl then. Few believed the even fewer that accused her.

    But unlike last time, humans - important, well-protected humans - had been killed. Mel and however many guards he had inside with him were all dead now. There were few who would react well to that information. And if the rumor spread quickly, like most rumors in Mangil did, Shannon would be confronted. At the very least.

    "Shit," Ryan muttered. "Shouldn't have left my lucky quarter at home, we could use some." His mind raced, thinking of a way to handle the situation. It might take some time still for Shannon to get involved directly in things. The gangs would probably not take it well, especially those who had been loyal to Mel. But Greg might be able to handle them. "Where's Greg?"

    "I don't know. I haven't seem him all day. After he started blabbing, I dragged him home. I was hoping that nobody would take him seriously, but, judging by how many people are moving around right now..."

    "Shit!" he muttered again. "Okay, look - you get out of here. Go to the shed. Somebody might come accusing you as well. The whole 'family' thing and all, y'know?"

    "What about Shan?"

    "I'll go get her. I can take care of anything that might come up. Clear?"

    "This is some bad shit we're in," Carl muttered, looking over the boxes again.

    "Yeah, I know. We'll figure out what to do next at the shack, okay?"

    "Yeah, sure. Just watch yourself. And don't let anything happen to her!"

    "Don't worry. Everything'll be fine. Maybe nothing'll happen at all. Now get moving." Carl nodded, and walked out from behind the boxes. He hurried, but he tried to do so casually. Ryan drew his gun, dropped the attention-grabbing hat (his new name for it), and walked out a moment later.

    There were definitely more people heading towards the north side of Mangil than usual. Hopefully they were just hurrying to one of the major farms up there. That way, they'd likely just be on guard duty, not on hunting duty. Ryan thought briefly about asking his father for help, but decided it would be better to get Shannon out of town first. Fortunately for all of them, there weren't many others who knew where the shed was located. There were few who knew it existed in the first place.

    As Ryan approached Carl and Shannon's house, there was a gust of wind, out of nowhere. It send loose objects flying back towards Ryan and others in the area, and nearly knocked him off his feet. It lasted for about ten seconds, before leaving as unnaturally as it had appeared. Ryan started running - it had come from the direction of Shannon's place.

    Finally, it came into view. And immediately, Ryan knew that it was already too late to handle this matter quietly. In front of the house, there were bodies. Or what remained of them. Limbs, heads, organs, bits of flesh, they had been ripped off and were scattered far away, patterned like ejecta from a crater. They all pointed to the doorway of the house, where Shannon had collapsed.

    Ryan forced himself to look at the top of the doorway as he crossed the path of bodies - it was impossible to tell just how many there had been. He only looked down when he finally reached the doorway. Shannon had her head tucked in-between her knees, and was crying. "I'm sorry..." she muttered. "I didn't mean...didn't mean to..."

    "Shan, we have to go," Ryan said, kneeling down, trying his best to sound comforting, and not scared over the human remains that surrounded them. She didn't look up. "It'll be okay, we just have to get out of here."

    "I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." They didn't have much time to waste - it was unlikely that the scene and the wind had escaped everybody's attention. There would be more coming soon. Ryan put his hands on Shannon's shoulders and started shaking her.

    "C'mon, let's go!" He continued to do so for a moment, before realizing it wasn't working. Shannon's mind was somewhere else at the moment. Sighing, he slid his arms under hers, and pulled her to her feet. Quickly looking around once more, though not down at the surrounding ground, he lifted her up over his shoulder.

    As he ran, away from the building, away from the north side, clear out of town, Shannon kept sobbing, "I'm sorry."

    ***

    Ryan knocked on the door, checking once more over his clear shoulder, as he had done almost every other step the whole trip. Shannon had passed out somewhere between Mangil and the shed, and was sleeping silently on his shoulder.

    As the door opened, Ryan found himself face-to-face with a riffle's end. "It's, um, me," he said, pushing it aside slightly, enough for his face to be visible. Carl pulled back the riffle, and opened the door the rest of the way.

    "What happened to her?!" he asked, seeing his sister on Ryan's shoulder.

    "She's not hurt. Our bad shit just got worse, is all. Here, help me put her onto the couch." Carl nodded, and grabbed Shannon by the arms as Ryan crouched over. Standing back up, Ryan grabbed her legs as Carl walked backwards and straightened her up, and they laid her down onto the couch. Immediately afterwards, Ryan collapsed onto the floor, almost out of breath from moving so fast with a load for so long.

    "So what happened?" Carl asked, sitting down next to him.

    "I'm not sure, I got there after it was over. I'm guessing some people went after her, and...all I know is that, by the time I got there, your front lawn was covered with body parts."

    "Oh God."

    "Yeah. She didn't seem to happy about it either, kept crying until she passed out. I don't know how she's gonna be when she comes around." Ryan remained silent for another moment, before standing back up again. Carl followed suit.

    "You leaving?"

    "Yeah, I'm gonna go see what's happening back in Mangil. Maybe find out where Greg is. You got everything you need here for a few days?"

    "The basement's still filled up, I checked."

    Ryan walked up to the door, and opened it. There was still nobody outside. "Okay then. I'll see you later. Good luck."

    "Yeah, you too." Ryan took a final look at Shannon, before walking out, and closing the door behind him.

    ***

    As he walked home, Ryan stopped by Carl and Shannon's house. Their old house, at least. He didn't know how long they'd have to stay at the shed, but the number of bodies - it was hard to get an exact count, but it was definitely more than 0 - seemed to indicate a while. It might never be safe for them to return.

    Ryan looked the bodies over. It wasn't as gruesome a sight at night, and most of them had been hauled away. He knelt down to examine one, thinking briefly of looting it. But he could only see the head, and it was clearly detached from the body now. He was about to move on, when something inside him didn't seem right. There was something bothering him about the scene, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He re scanned the area around him.

    As he did that, Ryan noticed a weapon lying on the ground, a hunting riffle. The severed upper torso of a man was still holding onto it. Wearing an old suit of leather armor. And he recognized both items. Ryan looked at the head he had seen earlier. And then he remembered, just what type of animal a "witch" was.

    It was her.
     
  7. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    Part 4

    There were two characteristics that were immediately noticeable about the Fifth Street Bar - the first was that it was not a hospitable place. There was a distinctly unfriendly aura in the air. Its regulars did not quickly welcome newcomers, and they barely trusted each other. Fights were common, though everybody had learned enough to take them outside before the owner took out his shotgun.

    The second thing one would notice about the Fifth Street Bar was that it was a very dark place. There were two windows on each side of the bar, but they were boarded up. The only illumination came from a lamp in each corner. The center of the bar was practically pitch black. The bar was also only open at night, always making it difficult to see anything that wasn't near one of the lamps.

    It was for that reason that Ride On frequented it. Many knew his face, and many could know he was him by the way he acted, but few could tell who he was just by his figure. If he wanted to get a drink, the Fifth Street Bar was one of the few places where he could go, and not be bothered with constant nagging about her.

    Nearly a year had passed, by his guessing, since Carl put himself directly in the line of fire. And Ride On could never bring himself to go back to that place, no matter how much he wanted to kill her. To make her pay for all those people she had killed, especially his father. So instead, he spent many of his nights merely getting drunk at Fifth Street.

    In his waking hours, he did odd jobs. Guarding, hunting, escorting, scavenging - just about anything to keep the money coming in. What didn't go to food or ammunition, usually went to his drinks. He could hold about four if he was careful now, but it still didn't take much to get him drunk. He didn't mind, though - at least it took his mind off of what he wasn't doing.

    He didn't know for sure that she was still alive, but he knew it was likely. Every other month or so, a new group of idiots would gather round, and decide to go hunt down the witch. As if she went anywhere. When a new one of those groups decided to set out, that was the only time Ride On was sure that she was still alive. Otherwise, it was just an assumption. The people who went after her, they didn't even know the whole story. They were just after money, the bounty that Mel's old friends in the Colts had placed on her. The last group, the fifth one, had gone about two months ago. Now was the time that stories about the witch - vastly exaggerated - would start to spread because of the full moon, and a new group of fools would head out.

    But even if they succeeded, it wouldn't make a difference. He was the one who was supposed to be taking care of it. It was the only way to end the whole thing, for him to be the one that ended it. Or, she could just kill him. That would be an end as well, but not one that he particularly liked. Carl, though - he was the problem. Killing Carl wouldn't take much effort, but still...it wasn't something Ride On was prepared to do. But Carl had to realize, his sister was gone. There was only the witch left. All his talk about trying to bring her back, that was all it could ever be. Just talk.

    And that talk about even him being lost...it was Carl that was the one who was lost. That was the one who couldn't see that it was already too late for his sister.

    Ride On looked down at his glass - it was perfectly balanced, 50% full and 50% empty. He hated the whole "half full/half empty" debate, so he decided to make it all empty and be done with it. As he placed the glass back down on the bench, he realized he couldn't see straight. Rather than try to find a way around this problem, he laid his head down onto the bar, put his arms around it to block out what little light there already was, and waited for the world to stop moving.

    Some time passed. Ride On paid attention to what was happening in the bar by sound alone. A fight started, but was quickly relocated after the loud - too loud - bartender started shouting at them. Somebody came in, and ordered a round for the whole bar, making him a very welcome guest. Ride On declined, amazingly enough; a free drink was usually the best kind of drink. And as time continued to go by, with the room only slowing down slightly, Ride On slowly became aware that some fool had decided to sit down next to him. Halfway drunk or not, Ride On could still handle such a person.

    "Hey buddy," he said, anticipating how the fool would pay for making him look up. It would probably be an even better distraction than his drinking. The only time Ride On could truly forget about her, and the fact that he wasn't doing anything about her, was when he was fighting in some fashion or drinking. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

    "Finding you is what I'm doing," he said as he looked over at Ride On. Looking up, Ride On could see a figure sitting right beside him. Even with the low lighting of the room, he could recognize the face (and the voice as well).

    "Carl?" asked Ryan, surprised. "What are you doing here?" It was well-known among those who went after the witch that her brother lived with her. Ryan had gotten into more than a few fights when somebody insinuated something about that situation. But Carl was well-known enough in Mangil for him not to be safe there.

    "I came here to talk to you," Carl said, his voice low. There were four others in the bar, as far as Ride On could see, and two of them had looked up over at them. Attention was not something Carl needed, or Ride On wanted.

    "I don't have anything to say," Ride On muttered. "You better get out of here," Ryan added. "You're not exactly well-liked around here anymore."

    "I don't care about that right now!" replied Carl, testily. He shook his head, and looked away at the far wall. "So, um, how've you been?"

    "Get to the point. Otherwise, shut up and let me get back to getting drunk."

    "You don't look like it'll take you much longer," Carl muttered, his eyes rolling as he looked back.

    Ride On slammed his fist down onto the table. "Look! Do you have something to say to me or what?!"

    "I don't have anything to say to you."

    "Wha? Then why did you - "

    "I came here to talk to Ryan, not whoever you are. You understand that?"

    Ride On nodded, as he laid his head back down at the bar. He was still floating halfway between drunk and sober. He stared down at the bar for some time, thinking.

    Ryan knew what Carl was speaking of. He had felt a rage inside him, a rage that had taken over most of the time. It had changed him, that much he was sure of. Sometimes, he felt that if he could just end the whole matter once and for all, it would go away. That was why he kept trying so hard to kill her - it was the only way he knew of to appease the anger he felt.

    But, over the years, he began to feel as though he had lost track of things. The anger inside him, he would lash out at anybody because of it, and not just her. It had lost its focus somewhere along the way. He was still angry, but he sometimes had a hard time keeping track of what he was angry for. Carl's forcefully ending Ride On's hunt prematurely didn't help matters at all, either. That was why, each time another group went out after her, he hoped that they would fail. If he couldn't be the one to end things, how could he ever even hope to rid himself of his rage?

    At least, that was what he told himself. He had his doubts sometimes about why he prayed nobody would be able to kill her, but he had always pushed them out of his mind. What else could he do but believe in what he had spent four years trying to accomplish? Believe that she was a witch that needed to be killed? That she was incapable of feeling anything for other human beings? That the rage would go away some day, and leave him in peace? What else was there to believe? He couldn't go back to the way things were before, but he could at least try to move forward.

    "Ryan?" Carl spoke up, finally breaking the silence, and the thinking that was usually silenced itself only by drinks. "Are you in there man?"

    "Sometimes I wonder," admitted Ryan in a mutter. "I don't think I'm drunk enough yet."

    "Look, I need to ask you a favor. But the problem is, you're not going to want to do it."

    Ryan could guess what was coming up next, but he still asked "What's that?" anyways. Carl had already asked Ryan something he didn't want to do when he stood in-between him and her. The only thing that was left to ask was...

    "It's Shan, she's...after you left the last time, I practically had to tie her down to keep her from going after you."

    "Why'd you even bother," muttered Ride On. "At least that way we could be done with this already."

    "Just shut up and listen to me for a bit, all right? This is important." Ryan tilted his head so that he was facing away from Carl, but remained silent otherwise. "Anyways, it's like I was saying - Shan was going nuts. Finally, I just locked her down into the basement. It was just like that first time she used her powers, remember?"

    "Yeah." She had gone out of control. It was a miracle that any of them were able to come out of that alive and (relatively) unharmed. She had threatened to kill them all more than once that time.

    "And so later on, I went down to check up on her. I didn't even need to go inside, though. I could hear her crying, doing that whole 'I'm sorry' bit again. And I just couldn't take it anymore. She was always either in her angry mode, or her sorry mode. She hadn't gone back to being just herself in...in a long while."

    "Hmm," said Ryan, focusing on the activities of a figure near the torch in a corner. He was still waiting for Carl to ask what he had a good idea of what would be asked.

    "It was because of her powers, I think. She was never like this before, but ever since Greg asked her to use them, she's been...like that, you know?"

    Ryan lifted his head to face Carl. "Yeah, I know. After she crushed the walls over in the west side, she was crying. I guess it just took too much out of her. And it wasn't like she had ever killed anyone before. But when I went over to her, she...well, you saw."

    "And it's just not like Shan. So, I figured, maybe if she stopped using her powers, she'd go back to the way she used to be."

    "She'd be dead, and you know it," Ryan said bluntly, still slightly peeved at how easily he had gone into reminiscing just a moment before. It wouldn't make his job any easier. Then again, neither would talking to Carl.

    "Well...not quite. We do have guns in the basement, you know."

    "And so do the people coming after her. Plus they probably have more of them, and more experience with them to boot. How do you expect to pull that off?"

    "I don't know. I've barely managed to handle the last five groups they sent our way."

    "Wait - you've already tried that?! You idiot!! Why didn't you get somebody to help you, like Greg or m - " Ryan shut up, and turned his head away again. He had a slight slip-of-the-mouth, that was all. A bit too much to drink, and too much reminiscing. He had to refocus. But no matter how hard he tried to regain a hold of that rage, it always seemed to slip away. It was temporary, probably, but he just couldn't bring himself to feel the fury that had accompanied him for so long. All he could bring up was a strong sense of bitterness at how things had turned out.

    Fortunately for him, Carl seemed to miss his slip-up. "Greg? I thought he was dead!"

    "Well, he might be, but I don't think so. I was looking for him just before...the last time I came over."

    "Oh." They both sat in silence for a moment. Around them, the bar continued its usual activities. It was getting a bit more crowded, but it was approaching the proverbial "happy" hour. That was to be expected. "Y'know, every time I bring up...moving somewhere else with Shan, she just keeps saying that someday Greg and - . Someday, Greg might come back, and we can get the project going again."

    "Carl - it's over, and you know it. The shack has too much of a bad reputation, and it's not like there's a whole lot of unity anymore."

    "...I know that. You could at least humor an old man, though."

    "You're not old."

    "I feel old. Spending a year learning how to shoot and dodge bullets at the same time alone'll do that to you, I guess."

    "Isn't she helping?" Ryan asked, annoyed. The "alone" part seemed to add credence to his belief that she was completely unfeeling and unsympathetic. It was his way of countering how she seemed to act after all those people died...were killed...

    "Didn't you tell her once that she couldn't shoot straight to save her life? Well, she still can't. And even if she could, I don't think she could actually go through with it."

    "She killed plenty of other people, why should these be any different?" Slowly, the rage returned to him, and in a strange way, he was glad. Things were going back to what he knew now as "normal".

    "Because, goddamnit! The witch, she might, but Shan? You know Shan, if it's not an animal that's attacking her or she can eat, she's harmless."

    "Are you saying that there's a difference between them?" Ride On asked, disgusted at the premise. It was a cheap excuse, and Carl knew -

    "Is there a difference between the person who's been hunting her down, and you? Ever since that day, it's been like you're both people I've never even met before. Sometimes, the old yous show up, but most of the time, it's these two strangers." And once again, he lost hold of the rage. Nostalgia was all it was.

    Ryan backed the subject up a few steps. "So you've been out there, fighting off all these guys by yourself? You were always pretty squeamish about killing people before."

    "I can kill them, if I have a reason. And I have a damn good one. This is the only way I can think of to get Shan back. And maybe...I might be able to get you back, too."

    "Do me a favor and get to the point."

    "You know, you don't want to talk about it, but you've changed! I'm getting the feeling a lot of the time that you just don't want to admit you might have spent these past few years of your life on a mistake! You think your father was right to try and kill Shan?!"

    Ride On looked over at the bartender, and motioned for another drink. It was disgusting how easily he could be swayed from what he chose by Carl's words. His rage was see-sawing back and forth. Every other word seemed to take it away or bring it back again. Carl, meanwhile, continued. "We were trying to get her out of there safely, remember? The plan was for her to not get killed!!"

    "But that doesn't mean I wanted my dad to die!! Greg had the Colts, you two had each other, but all I had left was my dad! And she killed him! And don't give me any crap about just letting that go; when your parents got killed, me, you and Greg got together and killed the bastards who did it! That's how you let go!"

    "But how could you even want to kill Shan? We've all known each other since we were practically kids! And we've always had each other to rely on, just like when my parents got killed! You know that!! And besides...she always seemed to like you the best. At the very least, you had her!"

    "Is this just about you wanting to see some sort of happy ending between the three of us? Is that what you want? In case you hadn't noticed, it's been a bit late for that sort of stuff ever since I shot her!"

    "Yeah, I want a happy ending! I want us all to go back to the way things were, and for these idiots here to leave us alone! But hell, I'll settle for you just trying to go back! I don't think that's too much, do you?!"

    The bartender came by with another drink for Ryan in his hand. He placed it down on the bar, and walked away, but not before eyeing Carl suspiciously. This did not go unnoticed by Ryan. "I think we might be attracting too much attention," he said quietly. "You might want to leave."

    "I still haven't gotten to the point yet," Carl replied, chuckling slightly. "Always did have a problem with that."

    "Yeah, well, what is it?" Ryan asked, as he made a quick scan of the room. There were eight people that he could count. Undoubtable, each one of them had some type of weapon on them. Whether or not they heard his and Carl's discussion wasn't something he could deduce, but he could still worry about it. There was a price on Carl's head as well. And if Carl was here, there was nobody at the shed with her.

    "First, I want you to listen to me all the way through, and not just blow me off immediately, all right?" Ryan nodded, his eyes still darting about. One hand was on his beer to keep up appearances, but the other was placed on his gun. Carl took a deep breath, and continued. "Okay. What I want you to do, is to help me protect Shan. I just...I don't know how much longer I can do it on my own, and if I get put out of commission...she'd have to use her powers. And then she'd just slip further away again. I'm sick of seeing that happen."

    Ryan sighed, and looked down at the floor, propping his head up against his hand. "Carl, I...I don't know if I could, even if I wanted to. I don't know how she would react, anyways. If I saw her again, would she be the witch, or...or her?"

    "That depends. Are you going as the hunter or as you? It's pretty easy to tell which one you are, just by the way you act. Besides, I'm not asking you to even see her. Just, whenever there's a problem or something, show up and help me out. With you, it would be a lot easier to handle those sort of things."

    "I don't know. You're asking a lot."

    "I don't think so. The old you, he wouldn't even need me to ask him. You'd have already been out there. And really - do you want to keep hunting her? Because if you do, at least one of the three of us are going to die. And even if you two are both strangers...you're all that's left."

    Ryan sighed, and looked up. As he did, he saw a man in the corner near Carl stand up, and pull out a gun. "Shit!" he shouted, as he leapt up and plowed into Carl, sending them both swiftly into the ground. They barely avoided being hit.

    Ride On got to his feet, his gun already out, and let out two shots at the man who had just fired. Both struck him in the chest, sending him down to the floor. "Get moving!" he shouted at Carl, who was still getting to his feet.

    Three more people, this time from a table in the opposite side of the bar, all stood up and pulled out their guns. The conversation had definitely been too loud for too long. Ride On leapt over the counter, ignoring the complaints of the bartender (and the threats of his shotgun). It was also a good suggestion, and he quickly slid his own shotgun off his shoulder. The bullets stopped slamming into the front of the bar long enough for Ride On to stand back up and blast the table twice. A mess of blood and splintered wood went flying back against the wall, and the three shooters all fell.

    Ride On heard four shots ring out from nearby - it was Carl, taking out a target that Ride On had missed. He also saw two others run for the door. That made seven, but he had counted eight earlier. Where was the -

    His question was answered as Carl caught a bullet in the chest, midway between his heart and his stomach. Without even looking up from where Carl was falling, Ride On fired his shotgun three times, almost certainly taking out whomever had just fired, judging by the screams. His eyes, wide with shock, never left Carl. He let his shotgun fall to the floor, as he leapt over the counter to where Carl was laying, in a pool of blood.

    "Hang on, I'll go find some stims!" Ryan yelled, though he didn't know if that would be enough. There was a lot of bleeding, and the color was rapidly draining from his body. Before he could go check, though, Carl grabbed on to his shirt weakly.

    "Shan, she needs someone to...promise me," he coughed out, his eyes darting about uncontrollably. His voice was shaky; not the voice of a person who would pull through. He was going to die.

    The color drained from Ryan's face as well, though not due to blood loss or injury. "Carl, man, don't - don't ask me to do that!" He shook his head. "I can't!" In his mind, Ryan heard his father. One of the bits of advice Michael was so fond of giving was that a promise to a man on his deathbed was one of the most binding promises a person could make. You could turn them down, but if you promised it, you had to carry through. And Ryan knew that if he did promise, he'd hear that every day for the rest of his life if he didn't keep it. And he wasn't sure if he could.

    He had tried to kill Shannon. Even if she had been the witch and he had been lost in his rage, he had tried to kill her. Would she even let him keep his promise, after that?

    Carl, though, wasn't yielding. He gripped even tighter, pulling Ryan close enough to smell the blood on his breath. "Promise! I want things...to go back..." His voice trailed off, as his eyes began rolling upwards.

    "Carl, I - " Ryan said, his voice carrying a desperate tone. "I...I'll......okay. Fine, I'll...I'll protect her." It was all he could do for Carl anymore.

    The faint hint of a smile passed over Carl's face, as his eyes pulled all the way up, and his breathing stopped. Ryan shook his head, and slammed his fists onto the floor. "Goddamnit!" he yelled. "Damnit!!"

    And with that, Ride On - Ryan - switched sides.
     
  8. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    Part 5

    "So have you got everything?" asked Michael, as Ryan lifted up his pack. It was filled with everything they would need for the search. There were some stimpaks, dried iguana carcasses, ammunition, torch sticks, a hand-drawn map of the area, some coins, two canteens, and other assorted things. There wasn't much room left inside the bag to bring back any of their haul, but Greg could easily carry two or three filled bags on his back. Carl and Shannon were bringing their own bags as well.

    "Yeah, I checked," Ryan replied, eager to leave. He was also annoyed at having been asked the same question four times before already.

    "And your gun?"

    Ryan pulled it out of his holster, and released the magazine. It was filled with 14mm bullets. "It's full. Everything's full. Relax Dad, I have everything I need." Even though he was only 15, by approximations, Ryan was already allowed to carry his father's old gun out on extended trips to the ruins. It was for defense only, though (Michael had literally pounded that into him). The only time he had used it to start a fight was when Carl and Shannon's parents had been killed. All four of them had gone, but he and Greg did the fighting. Greg came out fine, but Ryan had spent nearly four weeks recovering from the bullet he took in the chest. He nearly died that time.

    Strangely enough, Ryan wasn't punished for stealing his father's gun (one of them, at least), wasting so much ammunition, being dragged home, still alive due to stimpaks alone, and killing two people. Instead, the gun became his, and Michael spent the next three months teaching him how to not only shoot properly (which he already knew), but how to live to shoot again another time. After the training was done, though, Michael immediately took back the pistol. Ryan was only allowed to use it when he went hunting or scavenging.

    "Okay. Just remember, if you hear anything that isn't a rat, get out of there. Chances are it's bigger, faster, tougher, or hungrier than you."

    "The only big things I've ever seen near there are geckos," Ryan said, re-holstering his pistol. "Besides, there's four of us. We can take care of ourselves for two days. We'll come back, and everybody will be fine."

    "Yes, they will. Understand?"

    It took a second for what Michael was really saying to sink in to Ryan. "Yeah, sure," he said, slightly less confident than before, but still self-assured. "I gotta get going," he added, back to normal. "I'll see you in two days." Ryan opened the door and walked out.

    "See you," Michael said, as Ryan closed the door behind him.

    Ryan started walking to the near well. They had agreed to meet there before setting out. For the next two days, they would be searching the ruins of the old city nearby for anything they could find.

    "What took you so long?" asked Greg, grinning madly as Ryan approached. It was rare that he was able to leave his gang for more than a few hours. Despite his continued denial of disliking the Colts, it was clear that he didn't like how much free time low-level lackeys got.

    Greg, Carl, and Shannon were already waiting for Ryan. There was a good deal of equipment on the ground. Greg had his pistol, and three bags for hauling back goods. Carl and Shannon had some salvaged camping supplies that their parents had bartered off a trader years ago, as well as their spears. Neither of them liked to use guns much, nor did they have much skill with them in the first place.

    "I had to get everything first," Ryan said, shrugging. "Let's get going already!"

    The others, impatient from the moment they woke up that day, quickly agreed. They lifted up their gear, and headed for the ruins.

    ***

    It was a two hour walk to get to the ruins of the old town from Mangil. Nobody remembered what it had once been called. They knew that it had been more massive than any city in the wastes, though. There were also rumors of a Vault nearby, somewhere underneath all the ruins. Whether or not this was true, nobody had ever been able to confirm. There were sewers and subways underneath for miles and miles. It was difficult to find anything in there, besides rats (of which there seemed to be an abundance).

    But they were concerned with what was on the surface, not in the catacombs underneath the burnt out ruins. The major stores, carrying weapons, food, armor, supplies, and just about everything else had been looted clean long ago. But there were still sections of the city that were inaccessible, due to collapsed buildings in the way. Ryan knew of a few paths around the massive roadblocks of steel and concrete, but he had taken everything he could find from the stores near there. The primary purpose of their expedition was to find a new path, new stores, new things to sell. It was a profitable business, if one could make it out of the city and back home in once piece.

    The city, in the war, had not been nuked. However, that did not mean it had been left unscathed. Conventional missiles had been used after the nukes were all away. They had taken down the city, reducing it to a twisted graveyard of jagged steel and torn asphalt. The radiation count was no higher than most other areas in the wastes, which meant that it had been looted extensively in the years since the war.

    As soon as they entered the city, the four of them headed for a large open area, that had once been a park in a different life. Now, it was a good place to rest, and to have a view of anything that might be sneaking up on them.

    "So where should we put up for the night?" asked Carl, thinking ahead. It was a only few hours after noon, judging by their shadows. But Carl liked to have everything planned out far in advance. If he had his way, they would have mapped out every step they were planning to take inside the ruins a week in advance. But the conditions changed inside the city often. Buildings that had once been stable would collapse. Other groups that had gone to the ruins might have cleared away parts of the buildings themselves, forging new paths or using them as construction materials.

    "See that building right there?" Ryan asked, pointing to what had once been a ten story building. Now, it was just a gigantic pillar, lying on its side, and blocking the road it once stood by. It was much too tall (once, wide, when it stood) to climb over.

    "It's kind of hard to miss," observed Carl.

    "Well, we can probably find a door or a window or something, and get inside there. As long as we can get back out, it should be a good spot."

    "I thought that was the road block we were trying to get past," noted Greg. Ryan had described the area to the others, including the major obstructions to their path.

    "Yeah, it is," Ryan replied. "Might as well get two things done at once."

    Greg grinned madly. "Fine by me."

    "Hey, do you hear that?" asked Shannon, standing up.

    "Hear what?" Carl asked back. Shannon walked over to the wreck of two cars that had missed the road by about thirty feet. They were wedged together, reaching almost six feet above the ground in an inverted "V" shape. She climbed to the top of them, carefully to not upset the balance that kept them standing at angles, and looked around.

    Not wanting to be caught unawares, both Greg and Ryan pulled out their pistols. Carl picked up his gear, and also scaled the car wreck. All around them was a large open space, with some dried-out weeds and a few dead trees, so there was good visibility.

    There! Ryan heard what Shannon spoke of. It was the sound of a large number of feet, all scampering and scurrying forward. Towards them.

    "Shan, what is it?" Ryan asked, wishing he had another pistol to pull out. Whatever it was that was moving, there was a lot of it.

    Shannon had the best senses of the group, especially when it came to hearing. "Sounds like rats," she said, her eyes locked forward. "But definitely larger. Maybe moles?"

    "Shit," Greg muttered, scanning the entire horizon for a target. It didn't take long for one to make itself visible. It was a mole rat, a massive, three foot tall mole rat, coming out from behind a building at the edge of the park. More followed after it, wandering slowly, but definitely not without purpose, over towards the four of them. There were almost twenty mole rats in all, and several lesser pig and regular rats near their feet.

    "Okay, now is the time to go," Carl said, stepping down from the car pile. He pulled on Shannon's arm, bringing her back to reality as well.

    "Yeah, sure," Ryan said, turning around. As he did, he accidentally knocked over his bag, spilling out the contents. The noise did not go unnoticed by the rat pack. They picked up their pace, now definitely aware of the four intruders. The four meals.

    The four of them took off immediately. There was about thirty feet between them and the rats, and the rats had already begun to close the gap. Greg did a 180 degree turn, without stopping, and fired three times into the group. One large mole rat collapsed, holding up the rats behind him, but doing little to stop the pack as a whole.

    Ryan, meanwhile, quickly scanned the area in front of them. The park was near the end of a gigantic, u-shaped enclosed area of collapsed buildings and rubble. At the end was the building that now blocked the road. Now closer than he was before, he could see large piles of bones along the canyon "walls". The rats had trapped others in this area before.

    The building itself would be nearly impossible to get inside. Debris and rubles blocked the windows from the inside, up until about the fourth row (which was at least 12 feet off of the ground). And Ryan didn't have a rope. Even if he did, they'd still need time to figure out a way to get it secured for them to climb up. There were plenty of windows to choose from, but -

    - "There!" Ryan shouted, amazed. "There's a rope!!" The others looked up to where Ryan pointed - there was a rope hanging out of one of the windows. Somebody must have gone down this path before them. "Head for that!!" There was still twenty more seconds to go before they would reach the ruined building, by Ryan's guess.

    In a brief instant, Ryan caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. As he turned his head, he saw even more rats appearing over the rubble that made up the sides of the concrete canyon. He was about to shoot at a few, to scatter them, when Shannon cried out. He turned his head again. She had fallen down, and there were several rats already at her feet. Blood ran down her foot, onto the ground.

    "Shit," Ryan muttered, stopping to re-aim his gun. He fired, and sent one rat flying backwards from the force of the impact. The other scrambled away. Greg, finally catching up with the rest of them, stopped as well. "Hold 'em off for a minute!" Ryan shouted as he knelt down to help Shannon up.

    "Yeah, sure," Greg replied, firing his pistol several times at the rapidly approaching pack of rats. Each time one of the bullets passed by or hit its mark, the nearby rats scattered, but kept charging forward.

    "You all right?" Ryan asked, worried, as he lifted her up.

    "I don't think I can walk on my leg right now," she replied.

    "Lean on me, and we'll get out of here."

    Carl, who had reached the rope, turned back to shout, "It's stable! Hurry up!" Shannon put her arm around Ryan's shoulder, and they headed for the rope again. As soon as they started moving, Greg fell back, as he reloaded his weapon.

    It took them longer than originally expected, but Ryan and Shannon still managed to arrive before the rats. Carl had already reached the top by the time they got there and was looking out the window. Shannon let go of Ryan, and grabbed hold of the rope. There were several notches in it, for footing. Even with one leg, she was still able to pull herself up. Midway up, she dropped down the spear she had tied around her back. Greg picked it up, and prepared for the rats. He had emptied his entire his pistol again, but the rat pack was still much too large for them to take on for long.

    Ryan continued to fire at anything larger than a normal rat. They large ones were slower, but the small ones up front were only a few seconds away. He kept firing until he emptied his clip. By that time, Shannon had managed to reach the top.

    "C'mon, let's go!" Ryan shouted, hopping onto the rope. As soon as he was a few feet up - a mere two seconds, he was scrambling so quickly - Greg grabbed hold of the rope and began climbing off the ground. The rats reached them just in time to scratch Greg's exposed foot a few times before he was well off the ground.

    "Greg!" Ryan shouted, looking down.

    "I'm cool, keep climbing!" Greg said, looking up with his face a mixture of his usual insane grin and a grimace. Holding on with one hand, he stabbed a few of the rats that had gathered around the rope with Shannon's spear. After the group started backing away, he began climbing again.

    At the top of the rope, the (now that the building was on its side) fourth floor window, Ryan helped pull Greg in. Aside from the bites and scratches on Shannon's and Greg's legs, they were fine.

    "Well," Carl said, standing up. He was nearly our of breath from pulling himself up, and Shannon inside. "Everybody all right?"

    "I'm always good," Greg said, still grinning.

    "Why don't you ever just wear shoes?" Ryan asked, for what was likely the one millionth time. They had decided long ego that Greg was not entirely of sound mind, but his choice of sandals over shoes still made little sense.

    Greg shrugged. "Rats'll still try to eat me either way."

    Ryan shook his head and dug through his backpack. There was a strip of cloth, from a first-aid kit he had pilfered from the city's ruins on a previous trip. He tore off a strip, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it over to Greg. They were mostly just scratches, but they were still bleeding slightly.

    Shannon, though, was a different story. Ryan tossed the rest of the strip over to Carl, who was looking over his sister's leg. "How is she?" Ryan asked, walking over.

    "I'm fine, don't mind me," Greg said, laughing. "Just bleeding to death a bit more than usual."

    "Then shut up and bleed," Ryan said, shrugging as he looked over his shoulder. Greg grinned once more, and went back to bandaging up his leg.

    "How many rats were there, anyways?" Carl asked, as he started tying up Shannon's leg.

    "Sorry, I kinda forgot to keep count," she replied, wincing slightly.

    "Well, stay off it for a while, all right? They did a lot of damage pretty quick." Ryan looked away, and walked over to the window.

    "Sure," Shannon said. She sounded disappointed - if she couldn't move around, she was going to be stuck behind.

    Ryan evaluated the situation. Greg would still be able to walk fine. He would walk around with both legs missing if he had to, he was so stubborn. With a few seconds rest, Carl and himself would be good to go. They still had all their supplies, minus three clips of bullets and some of the cloth strip.

    The bad news, though, was that the rats in the area knew there was fresh food nearby. On their own, a few rats were negligible, but in groups they were a powerful force. And there were never mole rats, or even pig rats, outside of a large group of regular rats. If there were ways inside the building, the rats probably knew them. But if they kept moving, they might be able to stay ahead of the rats.

    There was still two very large problems. They would have to stop to sleep eventually, but Ryan and Carl both knew how to stay up for days on end. The only reason Carl slept was so he could dream, essentially. And Ryan slept to escape the dark that he had been afraid of ever since he developed an imagination. So sleep would be risky, but by no means ruled out. No, the only truly-major problem was Shannon. They couldn't leave her behind to sit around, even if somebody else stayed with her. The rats could overwhelm them in such a small area.

    "Carl, can you think of any way that we could take Shan with us?" Ryan asked, looking up. Likely, Carl had already come to the same conclusion as him, and was even a step ahead.

    "Besides carrying her the whole way, I don't know," replied Carl.

    "I could carry her," Greg said, always eager to show off his strength to the others. He was big in just about every sense of the word. Barely 14, he was already over five and a half feet tall.

    "You're not carrying me around," said an indignant Shannon.

    "C'mon Shan. It's not a problem. Heck, you're so short, you could probably fit in my pocket."

    "I'm not short!" she shouted. Shannon would have also gotten up and beaten Greg with a strength that only seemed to appear when her height was mentioned, if it weren't for Carl pushing her back down when she tried to.

    "Maybe you can use your spear for leverage. But like I said, I don't know. Carrying's probably the best bet."

    Greg slapped the side of his head, and picked up Shannon's spear from where he dropped it. "You might need this then," he said, grinning as he returned it to her. She smiled, and brought the wooden shaft down onto Greg's foot as she got back onto own.

    "Thank you," she replied, walking off with her left leg bent backwards at a right angle.

    "Anytime," muttered Greg in-between groans. He was still grinning. She was moving slowly, using the spear to balance herself as she put her right leg forward, but she was still moving. It was definitely better than just leaving her behind, or splitting up the group.

    "Well, that'll work," shrugged Carl. "Now, how do we get out of this building?"

    "I'll go check," Ryan said, sliding off his backpack. He dug around for a spare clip, and then re-loaded his 14mm pistol. He also pulled out his knife, and slid it in behind his belt.

    "Well, be careful. There's still rats out there, and somebody had to have put that rope up. We might have a lot of unfriendly neighbors right now."

    "That's what the gun's for," said Ryan, simply, as he crawled out of the room. The door was only two feet tall, since it wasn't designed to be used sideways. What had once been a wall was now a floor.

    The building was not in the best of shape. It had, amazingly enough, not been smashed to pieces when it fell down, but it had still collapsed inwards at some spots. Pillars came through the walls, and were bent and mangled. Whatever had been inside the building when it fell was now littering the ground, covering it in a layer of junk. Unfortunately, none of the junk looked like it was worth taking.

    Ryan made his way over the piles of random debris, and rounded the corner. He was in another long hallway, in just as poor shape. Sighing, he pressed on. If worse came to worse, they could always use the rope again, after enough time had passed. They'd just have to get out of the canyon quickly.

    After walking and climbing for what was definitely too long to move down one hallway, Ryan reached the end. There was a door in the floor that had once been a wall. He lifted the door up, and saw a stairwell. The stairs themselves had collapsed, but that didn't matter much the way the building had fallen. They would just have to climb over them, and they could walk across to the bottom of the building. Or they could walk to the left, and go "up". Either way, they could move forward.

    As Ryan turned around, he caught a quick glimpse out of the corner of his eye of...something. By the time he finished turning, it had already rounded the corner, whatever it had been. Worried, Ryan reached to pull out his gun, only to find that he still had it drawn.

    Ryan turned back only briefly enough to make sure there was nothing in the stairwell to be concerned over, before making his way down the corridor. He didn't run, but he did move much faster than he had coming down the hallway. Every step he made, his eyes darted around, trying to find anything out of the ordinary, to quell his paranoia.

    But as he turned the corner, he saw nothing. The room the others were in was at the end of the hallway, and there was no sign of anything wrong. Sighing, Ryan re-holstered his gun and walked towards the hallway's end. He had only been gone for a few minutes, but it was better to let them know that he might have found a path. Updates were a good thing.

    A second later, he heard a shriek. It was not a human noise, but the two gunshots that followed after it were. "Shit!" Ryan shouted, pulling out his gun and tripling his pace. Never assume that things will work out automatically, his father had often told him, because they never will. There were several more shrieks, definitely from an animal. It wasn't the type of noise a rat made, but what was it?

    Geckos, Ryan realized as he rolled into the room. Geckos made that shrieking noise. There were over half a dozen, all of the golden variety. Only Greg was visible over them, firing recklessly at the approaching group. Ryan barely avoided being shot by one of his stray bullets.

    Ducking down, Ryan fired twice into the torso of one gecko. It collapsed onto the ground, blood pooling out. Two others turned around, now aware of another meal in the room. They didn't get to go far before Ryan fired into them, one bullet apiece. Both of them fell down. As they collapsed onto the floor, Ryan gained a clear view of Carl and Shannon. Carl was trying to pry his spear out of the corpse of a gecko. Shannon, meanwhile, was leaning against the corner made by a wall and a debris pile, swinging her spear at anything that came close.

    "Carl!" Ryan shouted, as he pulled his knife out. Carl looked up, and nodded. Ryan threw his knife over the geckos, and Carl picked it up out of the ground after it landed. It wasn't much, but at least it wasn't stuck.

    Ryan heard something behind him, and turned just in time for a gecko to slash at his arm as he spun around. There were more coming in through the doorway. He stopped counting after three. His gun arm was still fine, and with it he blasted two of the geckos. They half fell, half flew backwards from the force of the impact at such a close distance.

    "Damnit!" Greg yelled. in time to see Greg let his gun drop to the floor, and switch to his fists. They were large and powerful, but they weren't claws. Ryan aimed his gun at a gecko that had snuck around behind Greg and fired. He barely avoided hitting Greg. The room was too small and too crowded for a proper gunfight.

    Before Ryan could bring his gun back over to bear on the door, a gecko bit down onto his arm. He cried out in pain, and let go of his gun. Even before his gun had hit the ground, he reached for his knife. But he grabbed nothing but air - he had thrown it to Carl. Ryan tore his arm away, the gecko's teeth tearing his flesh as he pulled it back, and dived to the ground for his gun.

    Then the room went green. There was a light coming from somewhere near the window. It came so unannounced, that everyone, human and gecko, were caught off guard, and all looked over. A split-second later, the geckos began expanding. It was as if their lungs were filling with air, but didn't bother stopping once they were filled. Their skin stretched out, and began to bleed from rips and tears. They shrieked a terrible noise, until their skins stretched beyond what they could, and their insides collapsed into piles on the floor.

    Carl collapsed onto his knees, and started retching. Greg and Ryan continued to stare with their eyes and mouths wide open. And Shannon...

    Ryan looked over at Shannon, the one he couldn't see out of the side of his eyes, fighting hard to wring his gaze away from the gecko piles. Her face showed something different from the others's - anger. Ryan had never seen Shannon look so angry before. Her head was slanted forward, her teeth clenched, and her forehead sloped down. Her hair seemed to be flapping in the wind, but even standing by a window there was no way to get that much wind in the room.

    And her eyes no longer seemed to be glowing - they were glowing. A bright shade of green, the same shade as the light that was filling the room.

    "Sh-shan?" Ryan asked, not sure what had just happened. Shannon looked over at him, and immediately chills went down Ryan's spine. It was like he was looking at a stranger. Carl and Greg looked over at Shannon, and shuddered the same way.

    "Uh, guys?" asked Greg. He was still grinning, but his voice was unsure and shaky. It was an almost hysterical smile. "What the hell just happened?"

    "Shannon?" Carl asked, as he got up and walked over towards her slowly. "Did...did you just...?"

    Shannon briefly looked away, her face still bearing an angry scowl. As soon as Carl came within a foot of her, though, she turned her head back, and her eyes opened wide. They glew so bright, the light stung. Carl went flying backwards into the wall, crashing down near where Ryan was just getting back up.

    "Woah, hey Shan, calm down!" Greg said, the grin leaving his face. In its place, worry, something rarely seen with him. Shannon whipped her head around, her hair flapping wildly to a wind that none of the others felt, and Greg went flying backwards as well. He crashed into a pile of debris with so much force, the entire room shook when he hit.

    Before Ryan had time to decide what to do, Shannon ran out of the room, quicker than any of the others would have been able to. Quicker than she should have been able to. There was a trail of blood from her foot as she left.

    Ryan helped Carl back up onto his feet. He decided it was definitely safer than going after her.

    "Heh heh," Greg said, not bothering to stand back up. Neither Carl or Ryan could see him, but they could tell he was grinning again. "If I knew she could have done something like that, I wouldn't have kept reminding her how short she was."

    "You idiot," Ryan muttered under his breath. Greg was almost always jovial, but there were times when one should definitely be worried and depressed, not happy.

    "Yeah, I know. Anyways, I'm gonna keep lying here for a while, so you mind telling me what's going on?"

    "Shan's run off. I don't know how she managed to, but she did."

    "Carl, you still alive?"

    "Yes, I'm fine," Carl said, walking over to Greg. "What's the matter, can't you get up?"

    "If I don't get up, it's not 'can't', it's 'won't'. Makes me feel better at least."

    That light...he had seen it before. "She used her powers, didn't she?" asked Ryan, looking out the door. "That's what it was, right?"

    "That's the best I can come up with," Carl said. "But...I've never seen her do something like that."

    "What?" Greg asked, as he sat up, slowly. The grin had left his face, and he instead looked surprised. "Have you guys been holding out on me?"

    "Maybe if you came around more often, we would have told you. She's...done something like this before, a few times."

    "Well, not like this," Ryan said, motioning towards the gecko bits with his hand. "More like flipping things and stuff. Making her hair stand up. That sort of thing."

    "Hey guys, look what I can do!" Shannon exclaimed as she rushed into the house. Carl and Ryan both looked up from their card game.

    "We know what you can do," Carl said. "You can let Ryan stall his move, and stand under the table. Why would we want to see that again?"

    Shannon continued smiling, even as she brought her fist down onto Carl's skull as she walked behind him. "No, I'm serious, watch!" She knelt down between the two, and started staring at the cards laying on the table. A few seconds passed, and nothing happened.

    "So, um, do you have any fives or what?" asked Carl.

    "I told you, no!" Ryan said.

    Shannon shh'd them, and concentrated on the cards again. A small wind passed through the room, likely from the still-open door. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them...they were glowing. Carl's mouth dropped open, and Ryan's own eyes opened wide.

    A card lifted itself off the table, hovering in mid air. Slowly, it floated over towards Carl. It stopped in front of his face and remained floating there.

    "Well, take your card!" Shannon said. Carl, dumbfounded, took the card and put it in his hand.

    "How...how did you...?" Carl half-asked. Shannon continued to smile, almost beaming as much as her eyes were. And Ryan just couldn't stop staring at them.


    They were the same eyes then as they were just a moment ago...except that a moment ago, Ryan wasn't sure who was behind those eyes anymore.

    "Huh. Freaky," said Greg, bringing Ryan back. "So what are we gonna do now?" None of them had an answer. Finding her would be easy, if her foot kept bleeding. But what to do once they found her...

    "Well, we probably have to go find her. Something's gonna smell that blood sooner or later."

    "We got plenty of that ourselves," Greg pointed out. "And she doesn't seem like she needs a lot of help taking care of some lizards and rats."

    "We're still going to go find her," Carl said, grabbing Greg by the arm. Greg shrugged, and together they managed to get him onto his feet. He was bruised, but he wasn't down yet. "She can't be that far away."

    "Great, but what do we do when we find her?"

    "Don't complicate the plan Greg," replied Carl, doing his best to emulate Greg's way of speaking. "I'll...I'll make something up. And it'll work, and then we can go back to looting this place, or go the hell home for all I care. Let's just find her first."

    "Yeah, sure," Ryan muttered. "Throw me a stim, will you? My arms're pretty banged up." Carl nodded, and dug one out of Ryan's backpack. Greg also took two more clips from inside - the last of the ammo.

    "Going home might not be that bad of an idea," he observed as he loaded his gun. "We're not gonna last long if we keep running into critters trying to eat us every five minutes."

    "Well, we can still run fast." Ryan shoved the needle into his arm, wincing. He never liked using stimpaks, but the gecko had sunk its teeth in pretty deep into Ryan's arm. Pulling it away hadn't helped much, either. At least they worked fast, even years after they had been made; his arm was already feeling better, though not by much. He picked up the cloth strip from where Carl had left it, and tied it around his wound.

    Carl pulled his spear out of the gecko it had been stuck in, with Greg's help. "Well, let's get - "

    A shrill cry interrupted him. It was the same sound that they had heard just moments before, when the geckos exploded. It was distant, but it still pierced their ears. Immediately, they all looked towards the door.

    "...going," Carl muttered.

    "Shit!" Ryan hissed, ducking through the doorway. Greg and Carl followed behind him. They rushed down the hallway as fast as they could. For every other step they took, there was a bloody footprint underneath them. They could hear even more shrieks and cries up ahead. The footsteps rounded the corner, and so did the three of them. There was no sign of Shannon in the second hall, but the footsteps kept going.

    They lead to the stairwell. By the time the three of them got there, the shrieks had stopped. There was a disturbing quiet in the air, as if there was absolutely nothing alive around them.

    The door was still open. Cautiously, Ryan stepped inside, acting as the guinea pig. He couldn't see anything, except that the bloody footprints wrapped around the collapsed stairs. He motioned for Carl and Greg to come in.

    "Shan?" Carl asked, almost whispered, as he stepped inside. "Are you in here?"

    They waited, but there was no response. Gathering his courage, Ryan walked around the fallen stairs. As soon as he was on the other side, he heard a voice. "Stop!" it shouted. The voice sounded like Shannon's, except that it was lower...darker, somehow. There was a menacing tone to it.

    "Shan, it's us. We're here," he said, looking around. He couldn't tell where the voice had come from. The bloody footsteps lead further down the stairwell.

    "C'mon out Shan," Greg added, walking ahead of Ryan. "Hide and seek's over. You all right?"

    A massive gust of wind was their answer, rushing towards them from where the footsteps lead. The wind was so strong, it nearly knocked them off the feet. And it carried a message: "Stay back! So help me I'll kill you all, stay back!"

    "Calm down Shan!" Carl shouted, straining to be heard over the wind's roar. It wasn't letting up; if anything, it was intensifying. "We wanna help, but you need to calm down first!"

    "I don't think she's going for it!" observed Greg, now pushed back against the rubble the stairs had made. The wind was carrying dust and pebbles, pelting the three of them constantly. Greg and Ryan, both of them in front of the first stair pile, had several small cuts and scrapes along their arms.

    "Stay away! I'll kill you if you come any closer!" Her voice was practically hysterical, mixing anger with fear. "Stay back!"

    "We'll stay here, just calm down!" Ryan shouted. The way the wind kept intensifying, the stairs themselves might start flying towards them in a few moments. "Right guys?!"

    "Yeah, sure!" Carl added, looking over the pile of stairs. "We'll stay here Shan, all right?"

    And the wind stopped. Just as suddenly as it began, it stopped. The roar in their ears was replaced with a different sound - footsteps, running down the stairwell, away from them. And once they faded away, there was nothing but the same erie silence as before.

    "Shit," Ryan muttered, collapsing onto his knees. His arms were bleeding again, but it was mostly small cuts. Nothing deep. "You guys all right?"

    "I'm good," Greg said, still leaning his back against the stair pile. He grinned again. "She's gonna kill us, but other than that, I'm doing great."

    "She's not going to kill us," stated Carl, walking around to the others. "Shan wouldn't do that."

    "Hate to break it to you, man, but that didn't sound a lot like your sister. Hell, I don't know who it sounded like."

    "She just wanted us to keep away from her."

    "We can do that easy. All we have to do is just go home, and leave her here. Of course, we'd still get killed by Ryan's dad, but at least we left her alone."

    "Damned if we do, damned if we don't, huh?" Ryan said, chuckling despite the circumstances. "Guess we take her with us then. We're going back too empty handed as is already."

    "Fine by me. Except I'm still waiting for Carl here to make something up."

    "I'm thinking, all right?!" Carl shouted. "If you don't like it, you try thinking of something then!" He closed his eyes, and turned his back on the others.

    "Well, I got an idea, but I don't think I like it."

    "No," Ryan said, disgusted at what he knew what Greg was thinking. Disgusted that the same thought had crossed his own mind. "Think of something else."

    "Like I said, I don't like it. But we could just try knocking her out. It wouldn't be that hard to carry her."

    "We'd still have to knock her out, that's the problem."

    "It's still the best thing we've got," Carl said, opening his eyes again. "Sad but true. So how do we do it?"

    "Bullets are probably our best bet," stated Greg. "Except I don't think we can shoot through that wind."

    "And we're not going to shoot at her in the first place," Ryan announced, his voice very firm. "We're trying to help her, remember?"

    "Actually, we're trying to make her go to sleep," Carl pointed out, "and hope she's not too crabby in the morning. Sleep solves everything."

    "Either way, we're not shooting Shan. Hell, knocking her out's bad enough."

    "Like I said, she didn't sound like Shan," said Greg. "What if Shan's gone for good? I mean, Shan wouldn't exactly go around shooting wind at everybody and threatening to kill them."

    "Let's stop this conversation," Carl said.

    "I mean, I'll do it if I have to. I'm not gonna like it at all, but - "

    "The only way I'd shoot at Shan was if I was sure she wasn't Shan anymore," explained Ryan, his eyes closed. "If that happens, then I'll take care of it, all right? So let's just quit worrying about that, and try to find a way for us all to get out of this alive."

    "Exactly," Carl added. "Now the way I see it, we make a diversion. One of us sneaks up behind her, and knocks her out."

    "She'd notice that there's only two people. Bit of a give-away, y'know? Try this, we go at her from three different ways. She'd have a hard time taking care of people in three different spots all at once."

    "Sure, but how do we knock her out anyways?" asked Greg. "Pistol whip her or something?"

    "No guns, you got that? No. Guns."

    "Yeah, gotcha. Now what do we do if we can't surround her?"

    "Panic. Die. The usual stuff," Carl said. "Talking doesn't seem to work. We have to knock her out somehow."

    "Well, as long as we're clear that this plan sucks," Greg stated, grinning. "Let's do it!"

    Ryan got up onto his feet, and started following the bloody footprints. They lead further down the stairwell, around several piles of collapsed stairs. After the third pile, there was a group of geckos. Like the ones in the room earlier, they had been filled with air to the point of explosion.

    "Shit," Ryan muttered as the others caught up with him. "How are we supposed to handle something like this?"

    "Exhale a lot," Greg suggested, shrugging and grinning. "Unless you want to do this the easy way."

    They pressed onward. If the building had still been standing, they would have been heading "down" to the bottom. Eventually, the footsteps lead into the lobby. There was a gigantic hole in front of them, where the building had once been connected to the ground. Now, it was merely an enlarged exit. And the footsteps lead out that exit, into the other side of the city. The side that they had never found a path to before.

    "Well, that wasn't too hard," commented Carl. "Somebody must have figured out this path before us."

    "They probably took all the good junk too," Ryan sighed. "The whole trip's been a flop."

    "Hey, look on the bright side," said Greg.

    "What's that?"

    "Hell if I know. Let's go get killed."

    "You idiot," Ryan said, chuckling slightly.

    "Hurry it up, will you?" asked Carl, already following the footsteps again. "It'll be dark soon." The sun had started to set. Through cracks in the lines of ruined buildings, the light beamed in. They had half an hour, at best, before the night began. After that, they would have a hard time following the footsteps. Or even seeing Shannon. They kept moving.

    The footsteps took a winding path through the blocked-off side of the city. How Shannon was able to stay so far ahead of them, none of them knew. But each bloody footprint had more blood than the last. There were small pools of it now. Ever since the stairwell, there had been even more blood. The geckos must have done some damage to her, before they exploded.

    Eventually, the path through the ruins of the buildings came to a clearing. And the footsteps lead to the far side of the clearing. A figure was sitting down against a wall - Shannon. She didn't seem to be aware of their presence - or moving at all.

    "Okay, how do we do this?" Greg asked, crouching down. "Just run up and knock her out?"

    "Works for me," shrugged Ryan. "Carl, you got any better ideas?"

    "Wish I did," Carl muttered. "Just...try not to get killed or anything. So, who wants point?"

    "I'll take it."

    "Okay. Keep her occupied for a bit. Greg, let's you and me scramble like hell."

    "Sure thing," Greg said, grinning. "But how are we gonna knock her out?"

    "Try chopping her at the back of the skull. I saw a guy do that once."

    "Get ready, I'm going," Ryan said, standing up. "On three. One." Greg and Carl took up positions on his side. "Two." Ryan almost reached for his holstered gun, before pulling his hand back in disgust. "Three!" Ryan took off, running straight towards Shannon. Greg and Carl ran as well, each veering away slightly from Ryan.

    Midway there, the wind hit. Shannon was still awake, though she continued to remain stationary. It was only directed at Ryan. Carl and Greg kept moving, overtaking Ryan and heading towards the edge of the clearing.

    And then rocks started flying in the wind. Ryan sidestepped, avoiding one, but a second struck him in his leg. He was knocked to the ground. "Damnit!" he spat out as he collapsed.

    The sun was coming in from Ryan's left, which was the side Carl had taken, so Shannon seemed to miss him. Instead, she turned her attention to Greg. The wind lifted from Ryan, and refocused onto Greg. He kept moving. She lifted rocks into the wind, and hurled them at him. Two struck him in the chest, but he still kept moving.

    "I'll kill you!" Shannon shouted. Ryan could see her eyes glowing, even as far away as he still was. "LEAVE ME ALONE!!" Seven rocks lifted up off the ground, and all went flying towards Greg.

    "Ah shit!" he shouted, right before the first struck him in the forehead. His head arced backwards, before he collapsed face-first onto the ground. The others passed harmlessly over him

    She would go after Carl next. Ryan stood himself back up, grabbing a handful of dirt off of the ground as he did. He resumed running towards Shannon, and threw the contents of his hand at her. He could feel several pebbles inside. "Shannon!" he shouted, running as fast as he could with his bruised leg.

    Shannon turned her head to focus on Ryan, while Carl continued to swing around. She stopped the dust and pebbles in mid air, and sent them flying back towards Ryan, at nearly three times the speed he had thrown them. They met with his face, blinding him temporarily.

    Ryan struggled to open his eyes. Though the image was fuzzy, he could see that Carl was almost behind Shannon. And she was turning around to face him. Cursing, Ryan knelt down onto the ground again, and grabbed another handful of dirt and pebbles. Half-blinded, he managed to aim them at Shannon and let fly.

    Just as the wind was picking up around Carl, the pebbles hit Shannon in the back of her head. She turned around, and blasted wind at Ryan, stronger than any of the gusts she had sent out before. Her eyes were glowing as bright as the sun. The wind sent Ryan off his feet, and flying backwards.

    Right before he hit the ground, he heard Shannon cry out suddenly. The light died down a split second later. Carl had managed to reach her. The impact knocked the wind out of Ryan, as his back crashed into the ground, sliding along it until he slowed to a stop.

    There was an erie calm; the only sound was the wind blowing through the buildings. But it was a calm wind, not the type Shannon had used. Ryan stared up at the sky, as he caught his breath.

    "Guys? You still alive?" Carl asked.

    Ryan raised his arm, and waved it a few times, still gasping for air. Greg managed to cough out "Hey, it looks like they nuked heaven too."

    After a few moments had passed, Ryan got back onto his feet, and rubbed out his eyes. They stung, but his vision was clearing. Greg and Carl were already where Shannon had collapsed. He walked over as well.

    "Well, she's unconscious," Greg said, rubbing his forehead. There was a slight trickle of blood coming down. "So, uh..."

    "Let's get back inside," Carl said, already walking. "We need to get some rest. Greg, you can carry Shan."

    "Finally!" Greg grinned again, as he lifted the unconscious Shannon up over his shoulders. As Ryan watched, he saw something reflect the light on the ground. He knelt down and lifted it up. It was a quarter, an old pre-war type of money. Beside it were dust and pebbles, likely the ones he had thrown at Shannon. The quarter had probably been in there.

    "Hey, you done gawking at shiny things?" Greg asked, looking back over his clear shoulder.

    "It's not just some shiny thing, it's a lucky shiny thing."

    "How do you figure?"

    "We're still alive, right? I'd say that's some damn good luck right there. C'mon, let's get moving already."

    "Right, right." They followed after Carl, tracing the bloody footsteps in reverse.

    ***

    All in all, Shannon had several cuts on her arms and legs from the geckos, and her foot was even worse than when the rats bit it. Her face was pale from loosing so much blood. Even after two stims, she didn't look much better. But at least she looked a bit more like Shannon, and not like...whoever that other person had been.

    As he tied up the cloth around her foot, Greg asked "Hey guys, hate to keep bringing this up, but what do we do if she doesn't go back to normal when she wakes up?"

    Ryan sighed, and looked down at his arm. Only Carl was in anything resembling a good shape. Ryan's arms were cut and bit, his back was scratched up from when he slid across the ground, and his leg was bruised from the rock that hit it. Greg was even worse off - his forehead, arms, legs, and chest had all been bleeding before he was bandaged up. Fortunately, he had more stamina - or sheer stubbornness - than the others.

    Ryan's hand was wrapped around his gun. He hadn't been able to put it down, ever since they got back inside. Ever since Shannon was in the same room as them again. "Either we get killed, or we..." Ryan trailed off. "...worry about it later. Rats and geckos are still trying to eat us, worry about that instead." They had moved to a different room, on a different floor all together. The further they were from the rotting stench of death, of food for scavengers, the better off they were.

    "Just checkin' is all," Greg chuckled, as he finished wrapping up Shannon's foot.

    "I'll take the first watch," Carl said. "Ryan, you've got next, all right?"

    "Sure, no problem," Ryan replied. "Just be sure to tell me before you collapse."

    They could likely make it back to Mangil before it truly became night, but the three of them had decided that it was best to stay away from Mangil for the time being. If Shannon didn't recover, she could do a lot of damage there. And they still needed time to make up a cover story for what happened while they were in the ruins. Shannon killing things with her mind and then loosing control was not a good tale to tell. People wouldn't react kindly to it.

    "Yeah, I will. You two get some sleep, you look like crap."

    Ryan got up, and walked over to the door, where Carl was sitting. "Here, take this," he said, offering his gun.

    "Uh, no. I'll stick with a spear."

    "Just take the goddamn gun. Otherwise I'm not gonna get any sleep."

    Carl sighed, and shrugged as he took the gun out of Ryan's hands. "There, happy? Now go to sleep already, huh? You've been busy getting killed all day, you could use some."

    "Right. Don't forget to wake me."

    "I won't, I won't." Ryan walked over to the piece of ground he had designated as his bed for the night, and lied down. His backpack served as an uncomfortable pillow, and a torn sleeping bag as a blanket. It didn't take long before he drifted off to sleep.

    ***

    On his shift, Ryan was again clenching his gun. Ever since Carl handed it back to him as he woke up, he hadn't been able to put it down. He hated the night. Or rather, he hated the dark. Every sound was a monster coming to eat him, every shadow born from the moonlight was some unspeakable terror, coming after him. It didn't help that the thing he was afraid of most at that point was lying down not ten feet from him.

    In the moonlight, though, she didn't look so threatening. It had been hours since she was knocked out, and she still hadn't woken. Not that surprising, really; she always was physically weaker than the rest of them, and she had definitely been pushing herself all day. She looked almost harmless. It was hard to image that just a few hours ago, she had been threatening to kill them all. And nearly following through on it.

    He wasn't sure how she was able to do all that. Flipping objects and raising hairs had been strange enough, but causing wind, and filling geckos with air until they exploded...it was beyond him. What was even worse, though, was that they all could have died if she hadn't used them. The only other time that any of them had come that close to dying before was when he was shot in the chest, going after the people that killed her parents.

    It disgusted him, how close they all had come to being killed. It disgusted him, because for a long time now, he had been the one to make sure everybody was okay. He had been the one that made sure nobody was killed. And he had messed up. It was okay for him to let himself slip through, but to let the others...he just couldn't accept it. What was even worse was that it all started because he hadn't done his job. If he hadn't taken so long shooting that rat at her foot...if he hadn't let her get into that situation in the first place...she wouldn't have had to use her powers. She wouldn't have been cornered when fighting those geckos. Disgusting, was what it was. The only thing that disgusted him more was the thought that...what would happen if she didn't come back?

    And for the rest of his watch, he kept gripping onto his gun. As if it could fix his failure. And he kept staring at her face. As if doing so could make her come back.

    ***

    "Hey, get up," said a voice. Greg's. Ryan opened his eyes, and saw a rat dangling in front of his face.

    "Shit!" he yelled, getting up quickly. Greg, holding the rat by its tail, continued grinning madly. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"

    "Is that any way to greet someone who comes bearing food? Get a fire going already, I'm hungry."

    Ryan shook his head, and started looking for wood amongst the debris that littered the floor. As he did, he heard Carl scream just as he had. Greg loved running jokes into the ground sometimes.

    After about five minute's worth of digging, he had enough wood to start a decent fire with. The three of them cleared away a section in the middle of the room, and managed to get the fire going with some effort. Unfortunately, since none of them were the group's cook - a title held by Shannon - managing to properly cook the rats Greg had caught was not easy.

    The smell of burnt flesh and hairs filled the room. While it didn't taste too good, the roasted rats were food, and food was more than welcome. They ate quickly, more to get the smell of food out of the room than to enjoy the food itself.

    "Ugh." A noise. None of them had made it. Immediately, everybody stopped what they were doing, and looked over. Shannon was getting up. She had her back turned to them, as she slowly sat upright. The three of them remained motionless, their eyes locked straight onto her.

    Then, she turned around. And her eyes...her eyes had returned to normal. Almost, at least. When she saw the three of them sitting there, staring at her, they began to water.

    "I..." she muttered, trying hard to look down at the ground, at the wall, at anything else, but unable to break away from the other's glances. "I..."

    They were silent for a moment. The only noise was the crackling of the fire, and, behind it, the faint sound of Shannon sniffling.

    Then, Greg stood up, grinned as usual, and walked over. "Here, you better eat something," he said, handing her the second rat he had cooked for himself. Greg liked to eat, even if the cooking was terrible. "The sooner we finish eating, the sooner we can head home."

    Carl sighed, Ryan stopped holding his breath, and Shannon smiled. She took the rat from Greg's hands as she blinked away the water in her eyes, and started eating. Greg just stood there and grinned insanely. Sometimes it was useful to have somebody in the group who was too damn stupid to know when to be unhappy or uncomfortable. It always helped to break the awkward silences.

    "You feeling okay Shan?" Ryan asked. She still looked pale.

    "Y-yeah," she muttered, looking down at the ground. It looked as if she was looking at the rat, but more than likely, she was just trying to not look at the others.

    "Good," Carl said. "But I still think you should stay off your foot. Ryan's going to carry you back, okay? We should get back to Mangil as soon as possible. Staying any longer would just be pressing our luck." Ryan blinked a few times in surprise, but accepted it.

    "That's...that's fine."

    "Hey, how come I don't get to do it?" asked Greg.

    "Because you actually enjoy it for some bizarre reason," Carl replied, chewing on his rat. "The further a person like you is from my sister, the better."

    "I love you too Carl," Greg chuckled. Ryan and Shannon laughed too. Things, it seemed, were back to normal.

    ***

    "Hey," Carl said, looking back over his shoulder. They were midway between the old city and Mangil, if Ryan's guess was correct. Ryan was carrying Shannon on his back, despite her occasional protests that her foot felt fine now.

    "What?" Ryan asked.

    "About what happened yesterday...how about we just don't talk about it ever again, okay?"

    Greg shrugged. "Works for me."

    Ryan nodded his head as well. "Sure. Shan, that sound good to you?"

    "That's...yeah," she said, her voice quiet. "Let's just please never talk about it again."

    "Okay then," said Carl, "that settles it. Anyways, I have a new idea. A little project I thought up last night. You guys interested?"
     
  9. Johns Volition

    Johns Volition Still Mildly Glowing

    209
    Dec 25, 2003
    jeezes and I thought fan fiction was supposed to be short... this is merly a fan novell... keep it up
     
  10. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    BWAAA-HAHAHAHAHA! DROWN IN TEXT!!! Me go hehehe now.

    Part 6

    The best way to find out when somebody was going to go "hunt the witch" again was to just keep making rounds of the bars. Somebody would always make a big deal about it a day or two before heading out. One last blowout before they got themselves killed. And people kept going after her. Even if only two people had come back alive besides Ride On - and only one of them lasted through the night - the Colts were still buying her head on a platter. Every few months or so, a new fool would come to Mangil, and decide to claim the bounty for his own. It never failed.

    After that, all Ride On had to do was pay off a bartender or two, and he had a full description of who was going after her next. The first time, he had been able to get to them just after they were out of sight of Mangil. The second, he didn't catch up with them until they were almost at the shack.

    Intercepting them from the shed would be the best solution. He wouldn't have to go around each bar in Mangil every night, asking around. It was arousing too much suspicion. Granted, it was well known that he was the one who was after her, and that he didn't like anybody else doing so. But he had never asked around about anybody else before. Staying in Mangil depended on nobody knowing that he was no longer hunting her.

    It would have been so much easier to just wait for them at the shed. But, waiting at the shed involved waiting there...with her.

    The bartenders and he had reached an understanding, in a sense. If they knew when something might be going down, they'd give him the info. Ride On just had to do them a favor, or shell out some cash. It wasn't like those heading to the shack were going to be bringing in a lot of return bluishness, anyways.

    Ride On didn't bother sitting. He could tell by the way Sal looked at him when he entered that there was something going down soon. Nodding as he passed, Ride On walked over to the far corner, and leaned his back against it. The lights were lower in that side of the room, a perfect place to wait undetected. Unbothered.

    As he waited, Ride On looked over everybody. The regulars were in their usual spots. No surprise there. Two guards - judging from their dirty clothes, and the armor over top of them - were getting drunk, talking about their route. It could be them. There were only two, but groups going after her tended to swell when somebody mentioned just how much the Colts were paying. The only prices that came close in Mangil were on some thief nobody had been able to catch, and Greg.

    A year and a half since Ride On went off looking for Greg again. Four and a half total since Greg disappeared. Tony brought in rumors every now and them, but they were just rumors. He hadn't actually seen Greg since that time right before Carl...ended it.

    Ended it wasn't the right phrase. There were still people going after her. It wasn't about the people she killed anymore, it was just over the money. Over the challenge. And even if Ride On wasn't hunting her either, he still wished he was. Going after her, that was the only time things made sense. He was just waiting for a way to break out of the promise he had made to Carl. There wasn't any way to get out of it, but he still kept looking. In the mean time, he would make sure nobody got to her before he did.

    Even if he was protecting her, it was too late for things to go back. Ryan, the old Ryan, was gone. And so was she. Ever since that day four and a half years ago. Maybe even since that night in the old city.

    "Hey," Sal said, walking over to the corner, and bringing Ride On out of his thoughts. The bar was still relatively quiet at this time of night. He could afford to stay away from the stand for a few moments.

    "What've you got for me?" Ride On asked, looking up.

    "Depends, what do you got for me?"

    Ride On sighed, and slid the bag off of his back. Inside were two bottles, shielded with a shirt. He pulled the shirt away, revealing two very old, very pre-war bottles of scotch. Most of the bartenders Ride On went to wanted cash or favors, but Sal only took payment in the form of alcohol.

    "One's yours, if you tell me what's going on. So's the other, when I'm sure you're not bullshitting me."

    "Yeah, sure thing. Some stupid kid, Jo Gray's kid? Well, he was in here last night, talkin' to some Colts."

    "What were Colts doing over here?"

    "I dunno. Talkin' to the kid. Maybe they're tryin' to get him to hook up, you know? So they were here talking, and then he starts shouting 'How much cash?!', real surprised. He was showin' them his gun and bragging about how many people he had killed before. Pretty sure they were talkin' about that witch."

    "Really? So when's he leaving?"

    "Tomorrow. Said he had to get his friends together, they were all gonna have some real fun with her."

    Ride On nodded, and started walking for the door. "Here," he said, handing Sal a bottle as he passed by. "Thanks for the tip. See you around, maybe."

    "Yeah, sure thing." Ride On walked out the door. By instinct, his hand was already on his gun. Even if the fight was still a day away.

    ***

    Ride On hated the dark, but as much as he tried to, he couldn't escape into sleep. He never could, the night before he'd head out. His dad's house - his house, now - was perfectly quiet. But quiet, loud, it didn't matter in the dark. Any sound, or lack thereof, was too much for him.

    He looked up at the half-moon through the roof. Most of it had caved in a few months before. If it had happened a year earlier, he would have blamed her. But she never left the shack. At least, he was fairly certain of that. Tony would stop by there every now and then, and do some trading. Food for supplies, mostly. Tony wasn't the type to give a shit about bodies in a closet, green flaking skin, sleeping with geckos, or anything for that matter. As long as he got paid, you were a valued customer.

    Most of the info that Ride On had about what was going on in the shed was from Tony. He never went there himself. Carl hadn't asked for him to forgive her, for him to see her. All Carl wanted was help protecting her. And Ride On did, but on his own terms.

    The best route from Mangil to the cabin was a straight line, going from the end of the main road - if a large dirt path could be considered a road - to the cabin. So many people had gone before already, it was common knowledge how to get there. The only problem Ride On could see was how many people there would be. The largest group he had fought before was five, the second one. The first one had only been two people. With his luck, he'd be up against eight this time.

    Ride On dug around into his pocket, reaching for his lucky quarter. He kept most of his gear in his pack, or on his armor, but he almost always had the quarter in his pocket. It had only worked well the first time, but he still kept it around. If this was his good luck, he could only imagine what his bad luck would be.

    At night, even the moon seemed like it was waiting to eat him. Ride On turned over onto his side, and faced the wall, until he finally drifted off.

    ***

    His luck was improving, Ride On noted. There were only six (though "only" seemed like the wrong word to use). Four of them looked like the knew how to hold a weapon, but the two near the left edge of the group seemed to be there only as distractions. They were carrying knives, poorly sharpened knives at that, and nothing else. No armor, no gear, nothing.

    The left side was the safest place to start shooting, but Ride On decided to go for the other half first. The sooner he took out the competent people, the easier it would be. Unfortunately, the skilled four were well equipped. One had a shotgun, and the other three were carrying riffles. And all four of them had leather armor on. It was definitely a serious expedition.

    Fortunately, they were too busy bragging to each other to notice Ride On following some distance behind them. The land was mostly flat, with a few dead trees here and there. Not the best of cover, but Ride On was making the most of it. Snipering them from his current distance wouldn't be easy with his riffle. If he could get in close enough, he could use his shotgun, and do some real damage to the fairly-close-together group.

    Ride On quickened his pace, running from tree to tree when he could. Unfortunately, there weren't that many around. And he knew the path - there wouldn't be any after a bit further. He would have to attack soon. They were only about fifteen minutes away from the shack.

    His shotgun was already in his hands. Normally, he could use his shotgun and riffle at the same time, but the recoil was rough. The two spots on his armor where he would prop the butts of the guns against, normally the most thickly-padded spots on his armor, had both been worn down. He'd be able to re-pad it later, though, with what he salvaged from their corpses.

    Somebody was passing around a canteen. Judging by one of the two lesser member's reaction, it was either piss or alcohol. Since the other kept passing it around, booze seemed a good bet. If only they had started that sooner, he could have waited until they were spotting a buzz. But as things stood, they would probably be at the shack by the time that happened. Now was a good a time as any to go.

    Bending his back low to the ground, Ride On doubled his already impressive pace, and raised his shotgun. They were twenty feet away, still laughing. Plenty of noise to cover his footsteps at ten feet away. And he fired twice into the group's back. One of the riffles, and the shotgun hit the ground. A knife turned around fast enough to get a blast to the head.

    Ride On dived to his left, avoiding three shots. He fired again as he hit the ground, but he landed on his elbow wrong. The shot went wide, striking a riffle in the shoulder. As he stumbled backwards, the riffle that had fallen down got back up. Ride On got to his knees, and blasted him in the chest.

    He couldn't see who fired, but Ride On definitely felt a bullet enter his side, half an inch from his edge, and go straight through. He fell backwards, firing his shotgun as his hand instinctively went to his side. From the shout of somebody, he couldn't see who, the shot made itself count. But he wasn't able to hold on to the weapon as it sounded off, and it went flying out of his one hand.

    Ride On tried to get back up, but a bullet through the leg, midway between the foot and the knee, put a stop to that. Looking up, one of the riffles was standing in front of him, weapon raised. He grinned, and then pulled the trigger. Ride On was barely able to roll out of the way in time, the shot grazing the back of his armor as he went.

    Adrenaline increasing his natural speed, Ride On was able to pull out his 14mm and fire before the riffle was able to get off a second shot. The bullet struck the man's hand, causing him to drop the riffle. Ride On shifted his aim upwards, and put a hole through the back of his skull.

    Ride On struggled to bring himself up onto his feet. His leg needed attention fast, but he had to first make sure that there was nobody else left to make it bleed further. Both of the knives were dead. Not surprising, considering their lack of armor. Shotgun was down, the riffle behind Ride On was very dead, and the two others...one was kneeling down, picking up his riffle. It was the one he had caught in the shoulder. Ride On raised his gun, and, with some remorse, fired straight into the man's ass. It was the only clear shot he could make from the way he was crouched over, but it was still a terrible way to kill somebody.

    That was all of them. He was done. As Ride On looked himself over, though, he realized that he was more right than he thought. He was bleeding in two places, not counting the small cuts and scrapes from rolling around across the dirt. Worse, walking at his normal pace was out of the question. He tried to take a step forward, testing his leg, and pain shot up through it. He'd be limping at best, crawling at worst.

    "Stims," he muttered, dropping down carefully to his knees; his leg was in enough pain already, he didn't want to make things worse. Ride On dug through his backpack desperately, throwing aside the various knick-knacks he still collected, the spare ammunition, the dried meats that made up his emergency rations. But there were no stimpaks. One of the few things his father ever told him, always carry around stims, those lifesavers of the wastes, and he didn't have any!

    The others. Six, there had to be at least one that had some. Ride On dragged himself over to the fallen bodies, and started rummaging. Bags, armor, pockets, pants, belts, anything, stims, he needed stims! He'd never make it back to Mangil before collapsing from exhaustion, or being overtaken by some critter or bandit, without stims!

    And Ride On's luck wasn't improving much, because only one person was carrying any. It was the shotgun. And the ones he had, they were all broken. When Ride On shot him, he shot him in the back. Where his bag was. Where the stims were! The one person who had stimpaks, and he went and blasted them away!

    He could still make it to town, if he tried. He still had his pistol. Ride On started walking, not bothering to loot, to reload, to reclaim his shotgun. All he did was quickly tie the torn pant leg of one corpse around his leg, and he started walking. An hour, at least, from Mangil. And Ride On, the one who always walked fast, was limping. It would take maybe even two hours to get back home. Two hours spent wounded in the waste were two hours too many. He was trailing blood, that wonderful sight for looters, and beloved smell for carrion eaters. Two hours, how could he...

    ...Ride On looked at the terrain. Even though the wastes in this area were fairly monotonous, he had traveled this path enough to become familiar with it. Mangil was...Mangil was the other way. The only thing that was in his current direction was...it was...

    "Shit," Ride On muttered, as he trudged forward. He didn't bother turning around. Mangil was too far. And even though Mangil was the safe place for him to be, Ride On kept going. Trying for Mangil, this far away, in this shape, it was suicide. The shed wasn't necessarily much better, but...

    Sometimes, Ryan wondered if Shannon knew what happened half a year ago. Carl had thought Greg was dead, but he was still alive out there somewhere. He only left, but he was still alive. Maybe Shannon made the same mistake about Carl, only the other way around. That was...he couldn't have that. Not being fast enough to save Carl, that was bad enough. He couldn't let her think that Carl ran away. He had to...

    Ride On dragged his bad leg behind him, moving forward slowly, but moving none the less. At this point, it was all he could do.

    ***

    His leg...couldn't even feel it anymore. The air was coming in rough, slow, never enough. How long had it been? Time was passing him by, couldn't even keep track of it anymore. Everything was fading. The sun was never this bright. Colors, they were washed out. All approaching a flat light gray.

    But the shed was there. Blinked, and it was ten feet closer. Everything was fading. Needed stims. Water. Blood. Anything. Cold sunlight, clothes soaked with sweat from it. Collapsed against the door, and slammed his fist. Needed to tell her. He slammed his fist again, then it fell. Couldn't raise it again. He would have fallen too, but the door was there, leaning against him.

    Then the door opened, and he did fall. Couldn't die face-down. Spun around, collapsed onto his back. Everything was gray, except two green spots in the sky. "Carl, he," and then the voice was gone. And so was he.

    ***

    He could tell it wasn't real, but he couldn't tell if it was a dream or if it was death. All he could tell was that he recognized what was happening, because it had happened before. Maybe he was somewhere in-between the two, moving towards the latter. This could be the flash he had heard about before.

    It was the bar, the Fifth Street, and Carl was shot. He saw Carl get shot, but he didn't see soon enough the shooter. He was always fast, but he wasn't fast enough to save Carl. And so Carl bleed, and all he could do was agree to a promise. Not save somebody, not protect them properly in the first place...just humor a dying man. That's all he was fast enough to do.

    And she fell, once. He didn't see her fall, he only heard her. There were rats at her feet, and he shot one. But he took too long. Her foot was out of commission, and she was against the wall when fighting the geckos. And he wasn't even fast enough to get back there in time. They all could have died, and he just wasn't fast enough!

    The bullets went by fast, though. They traveled faster than he could, straight through her. He was aiming to wound. At least, that's what he told himself the first time. He was trying to make her feel what the people in Mangil had felt. What his father had felt. He saw Carl was stunned, but, at the time, that was all he saw. Looking back now, at that first time, when he shot her three times before she used her powers, she just...stood there. She didn't fight back. She didn't run. She just stood there, in shock. And, looking into her eyes now, he could see just how frightened she was.

    Every time after that, things were different. He couldn't toy with her, not since she learned to deflect bullets, and send them back at him. And her eyes were always angry. The green was full of rage, of power. They were never soft, like they used to be. Or afraid. Except for that one time. Carl stepped in-between them, and tried to stop it. But he ignored his old friend and his commands, though, and he rushed around, to shot at her again. Back then, he only saw Carl's leg bleed. He didn't bother looking at her when he shot. Not consciously, at least. Her eyes weren't truly glowing then - they were her eyes. And they were so afraid, afraid that he no longer even cared if Carl got in his way. "He'll come after you next! He'll never leave us alone!" she shouted before.

    That night in the building. He was afraid of anything that moved, his hand wrapped around his gun. The gun his father said was for protecting himself and the others. And he had actually thought about using it against her that day. It might not have been truly her, it might have been just for a second, but he still thought about it. He was supposed to protect them. She looked normal, that night. Even if she woke up to be that other person, that witch, she still at least looked like herself that night. And he still had his hands wrapped around his gun. "But how could you even want to kill Shan?" came a voice from another night. And he didn't have an answer anymore. "Your dad's still dead, the plan's still ruined, and everything's fallen apart!"

    "Hey guys, look what I can do!" she said. And all he could do was stare at her eyes, with his own wide open. Carl was still alive, Greg was still around, and he and she were still themselves. Who the hell was he anymore? He had lost himself. He was always ready to lose himself, but never the others. He was supposed to protect them, his own safety be damned. He couldn't protect Greg or his father, and he lost himself. He couldn't protect Carl, and he lost his best friend. He couldn't protect her, and he lost her. How could he hate her, then, for something that was his own fault? He didn't have an answer, but he had done so anyways. And worst of all, because of that, he might have lost any chance of getting her back.

    ***

    It was...night. He hated the night, but for once he was glad to see it. Nobody ever said anything to him about there being night in death. He was...still alive. He looked around the room, lit only by the moonlight through the cracks in the ceiling. From that, he could see that he was inside the shed. Lying on the couch. His leg was wrapped in a fresh bandage, as was his stomach. His armor was on the floor, with his weapons (he had left his shotgun behind, for the second time) and gear. He didn't bother moving his leg; he could tell it would still most likely hurt like hell.

    He looked up, and there was green. Sitting on the table cross-legged, looking straight at him. At first, just the simple near-glow, the green that reflected more light than there seemed to be in the room. But when they saw he was awake, and looking at them, they glew. They glew bright, and illuminated the entire room, silver moonlight mixing with the glow. The wind that always accompanied it was not far behind, and the hair behind the green flapped wildly as always.

    "I..." he muttered, unable to break away from that green light. Unable to complete his sentence with anything more meaningful than silence. He just stared at them, unflinching. He hated the dark, and everything in it. And while he was afraid of that light, more than he had ever been afraid of anything in the dark, he couldn't fight back against it. He just couldn't hate it enough to do what he would have to do to defend himself from it. Not anymore.

    All he could do against it was to close his eyes. Not clench them shut, as if that would be any worthwhile defense. Just close them, and wait. He waited, and the wind swirled around him. He waited, and he could hear the hair behind the light flapping. He waited, and waited, and waited.

    And nothing happened.

    He opened his eyes, and looked up at the table. The light was gone, in any shape or form. He was alone with the dark again. Sighing, he closed his eyes once more, and drifted back to sleep.

    ***

    And he dreamed again. He saw Greg, in the current day, still wearing those stupid sandals of his. His fashion sense had become even worse. He had somehow dyed his hair bright blue, and had a gigantic tattoo of a one-headed brahmin across his entire chest. He was still grinning, as if his face could do anything else.

    And Carl was still worrying. Though he kept denying it, he loved worrying about every little detail. Where were they going to get more building materials? Did anybody else see that rat? Has that damn trader arrived yet today? All the little details everybody else ignored, he was all too willing to obsess over.

    And she was there too. Her hair was down to her knees now. It was unwieldy, but that never seemed to bother her before. The garden out back was now a small farm, which she was more than happy to take care of. They were growing more food than they needed, for a change. At any given point in the day, you could find her somewhere in that maze of corn and wheat that was taller than she was (on a good crop). You had to look for her eyes, for two green spots in the garden that almost glowed.

    And he saw himself. Worrying about the others even more than Carl worried about whether they had two flies per brahmin or three. He had a small group, only two people besides himself, that acted as a deterrent to the raiders and critters. Carl took care of the problems inside the small town, and he and his crew took care of the rest of the world. It was a big task, but he always put a lot on his own shoulders. His father had a saying, and his crew knew all of them by heart. And just like his father, he pretended he never said them before, just for an excuse to keep driving the point home. Ridiculous.

    And Carl's stupid little project was now a stupid little town. Some of the caravan guards had decided that they had had enough of that dead-man's business, and retired there. Others, growing sick of the Colts and other gangs in west Mangil, had moved the short distance. They weren't a large group, but they were growing. And a few years ago, the place where they were standing was just an empty patch of dirt in the wastes. Carl's plan had turned out pretty well.

    ***

    Which is why he woke himself from that dream. It was too good, too far from reality. He didn't want to be reminded of just how poorly things had turned out.

    It was day. Which day, he wasn't sure. He had no idea how long he had been asleep. There was a pile of bloody bandages on the floor. That hadn't been there before, so that meant he had been out long enough that changing the bandages was justified. And...that his bandages had been changed.

    Slowly, he sat up. His side was sore, but it had lost its sharp sting. He rotated himself, lowering his legs down off of the couch and onto the floor. His leg hurt, he could tell that much without standing up, but it felt better too. Looking down at the floor again, he saw two stimpaks lying in the bandage pile. Most likely then, he would live.

    He stood up, slowly, carefully. He still couldn't put much weight on his bad leg. Walking would still be limping for a while, until the gunshot wound healed a bit more. Looking around, he could see things were similar to the last time he was in the cabin. Everything that had been there then was still here. Except...her. Where was she?

    Kneeling down onto the ground, he gathered up his things. He had been wearing his armor and guns for so long, he felt almost naked without them. He pulled the armor down over his head, taking care when it came down to his stomach. He took his pistol and belt - it was never a smart idea to go anywhere in the wastes without some sort of defense - but left the riffle behind. "Clothed" again, he limped his way over to the door. Where was she?

    Outside, he heard a faint sound, but one he easily recognized - it was the only song she knew, after all. He limped his way around the house, to the back. The garden was doing better than the last time he saw it. There was a good crop of wheat, for a change, and a pen with two brahmin inside. Carl probably bartered them off of Tony, for lord knows what. And she was there, humming her song away, looking over the plants. Looking at him.

    He stood there, dumbfounded, unsure of what to do. A minute passed. Her eyes remained surprised, but he couldn't read any more out of them. A second minute went by as he stared at her, at her eyes that almost glowed green.

    The third minute came and went, and the fourth found him holding his gun. He didn't know when he drew it (not a new occurrence). And it was pointed at her, at those eyes that he couldn't look away from. She didn't run. She didn't look away. And she didn't attack. She just stood there, waiting for his move.

    The fourth minute passed, and he couldn't make one. He just stared at those eyes, and realized that he couldn't find a single reason to be holding his gun. But he was anyways. For three years, he had held that gun at her, and he couldn't find any cause or reason for it. Three years, and he only now, a year and a half later, realized just how pointless it had been. Just how much he had screwed up. His father gave him his gun so that he could protect them. Protect her!

    And as the fifth minute came to a close, with her still standing there staring at him, he raised his gun higher. Higher, higher, until it was pointed directly up at the sky. And then he brought it backwards, closing his arm. Bringing the barrel of the gun down to rest on the side of his skull. He was supposed to protect her, not hunt her! He couldn't bring himself to look away from her eyes, still so green & immobilized with indecision. And every second he looked in them, he hated himself more. He was supposed to protect her! She really was the most important thing to him, the only thing he had left. How could he even look at her in the eyes anymore?

    But he did. He kept staring at them, his finger pulling back slowly on the trigger. She blinked, and finally something he could read came from those eyes. Concern. Worry. Fear. He forced his eyes shut, one of the hardest things he had ever done, and -

    - and...

    Ryan opened his eyes, already wet with tears, and felt his gun drop down from his hand. His legs, his arm, they went limp, and he collapsed onto the ground. "Oh God," he muttered, in-between sobs.

    Shannon walked over, and knelt down in front of him. He looked up from the ground, into her eyes, and collapsed into her arms, putting his own around her. "Oh God I'm sorry," he said, burying his face into her shoulder. "I'm sorry Shan!"

    "It's okay," she said, smiling faintly. "It's okay now."

    "I...I never wanted this to happen. I just, I screwed up. Wasn't fast enough to get there in time. I'm sorry Shan, I just..."

    "I know Ryan. It's okay, just let it out. Everything's fine now." And he did. Four and a half years spent on a mistake, spent loosing himself and her. Shannon continued to hold him, and he let everything come through.

    "I missed you Shan," Ryan said. "I'm sorry it took me so long to realize that."

    "I missed you too. It's been so long since...since there's been anybody here, and..." She trailed off for a moment, and then smiled fully. "Well, c'mon, let's get you off your leg and back inside, huh? I swear, everybody I knew seems to get their legs messed up."

    Ryan laughed briefly, and smiled as well. "Yeah, sure. Bad luck all around I guess." He dried his eyes on his sleeve, and, with Shannon's help, got back onto his feet. He bent his back down, and put his arm around her shoulder, for leverage. She put her arm around his side, and together, they walked around to the door.

    Ryan sat down on the couch, glad to be off his leg. It would still be some time before he could walk on it properly. Shannon sat down beside him. Ryan looked over at her and sighed. "Shan...I have something I need to tell you. You're not gonna want to hear it but..." Ryan stopped to take a deep breath, even though he could tell by the look in her face that Shannon didn't want to delay hearing what he had to say any longer. "Carl, he...he, he's dead. I'm sorry, I really am."

    The possibility that Carl was dead had undoubtable crossed Shannon's mind before, in the year and a half since he left. But knowing was still another matter. She looked down at the floor, as Ryan turned his head to look straight ahead. He couldn't see her face, but he could tell she was sniffling from the sounds. "How...how did he die? What happened?"

    "We were talking in a bar, and..." Ryan shook his head. "We were just too damn loud, I guess. We got jumped, and bullets started flying, and...I just couldn't take them all out fast enough. I'm real sorry Shan, I should've...I should've told you sooner. Hell, I should have never let it happen. It's just..."

    Shannon looked up from the floor, and over at Ryan. "Before he left..." Ryan looked over at her. Her eyes were almost glowing even more with the water in them. "Before he left, he said he was going to go get help."

    "Yeah. He came to me, and asked me to help him protect you."

    "And you said..."

    "I said exactly what I shouldn't have said. He kept asking, and I just...I only agreed after he was shot. I'm sorry Shan. I've been saying that a lot, but I really am. I've been screwing up for almost five years now. It's taken that long for me to realize just how stupid I've been, and - " Ryan didn't bother finishing. He looked down at Shannon, and saw she had started sobbing quietly into her hands.

    Ryan put his arm around Shannon's shoulders, and pulled her closer. She buried her head into his chest as he twisted around to hold her. He sat silent for several minutes, trying to think of something to say.

    "Shan, I can't do anything to bring Carl back, y'know? I wish I could, but..." No, that wasn't the right thing to say. He needed to get her away from thinking about Carl, instead of drawing attention to it. "Hey, cheer up, all right? Things are gonna be different from now on. They'll be the way they used to be, like Carl wanted. And...and it'll be great, okay?"

    "Yeah, sure," she said, looking up. "And the skies'll rain down caps, and all the rats'll kill each other off, and everything will be perfect." She sounded condescending, but at least she was smiling. At least she had stopped crying for a moment.

    "C'mon Shan, gimme a break. I'm trying, you know?"

    "I know, I know," she said, sitting back up. "But you just sound so corny sometimes." Ryan grinned, not sure of anything else he could do. As long as she was smiling again, that was what mattered. It had been too many years since he had seen her smile.

    ***

    "Are you sure you're all right?" Shannon asked, looking over at Ryan. They were sitting on the front porch (if a metal sheet laid across four concrete blocks could count as a porch), as Ryan checked over the things in his backpack.

    "Yeah, I'm fine, thanks to you. Besides, eight days was more than enough rest." It was three days after he had woken up. The five before them, he had spent drifting in and out of consciousness. The only time he woke up fully during that time was the first night, when Shannon was staring at him from the table.

    "Well, you did push your luck pretty hard when you dragged yourself over here."

    Ryan grinned, and dug his hand into his pocket. "That's what the quarter's for," he said, pulling his good luck charm out.

    "You know, you never did tell me why that thing's any good."

    "Didn't I?" Ryan sighed, and looked down into his bag. "I found it, not too long after we managed to...after the whole incident in the city. And I thought that if we all made it out of that place alive, then we must've had some sort of luck. That's what...that's what I like to think this thing is. Not that it does much anymore."

    "Guess you used it up the first time, huh?" Shannon asked, laughing faintly. It was easy to tell she wasn't truly laughing in the first place. They sat in silence for a moment, a silence they had spent three days chatting away so they could avoid it. Anything, from Ryan's search for Greg, to the days back when they were all together. As long as it wasn't that silence.

    The wind blew lightly across the porch, sending some dirt across to the other side. The few faint clouds in the sky continued to drift away slowly.

    "I hate them," Shannon muttered, crossing her arms and laying them across her knees. She laid her head down across her folded arms. "These powers I have...the first time I used them, I thought they were great. I could do all sorts of things. But now...I can't even use them to lift a stick without...becoming somebody else. I can't control them."

    "Yeah, I know what you mean," Ryan said, looking up at the clouds as he leaned back. "When you lifted those cards the first time, you seemed to happy. But that night in the city...I don't think I was ever more frightened. I was scared that I was going to have to fight you to protect everybody. That...that you might never come back the next day." He looked over at her. "Did Carl ever tell you why he started fighting those people who...came after you?"

    "No. He just said one day that that was the way things were going to be. But...it didn't take me long to figure out why he was doing it. He never liked talking about my powers at all."

    "Well, just...just don't use them anymore, okay? I don't want to see...to see her come back."

    "Sure...as long as you stay you." Ryan nodded, and stood up, putting his bag back over his shoulder. "Are you going to come back?" Shannon asked as she stood up as well.

    "Yeah, sure, I just need to get some things."

    "That's not what I meant. I mean are you going to come back, and stay? For good?"

    Ryan sighed, and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know Shan. Maybe. Things are just...I'm not sure if I can, even if I want to, you know?"

    "Well, what's stopping you?"

    "Four and a half years worth of mistakes. I just...I can't get over it all so quickly. But I'd like to. I'd really, really like to."

    "Um...right." She turned around, and was about to walk inside, when she stopped. "Still, could you at least stop by every now and then? This place gets pretty lonely sometimes, and...I'd like to see you."

    "Sure. Sure thing. I can do that. I'll see you later then."

    He turned around to wave goodbye, just in time to see her walk up, and kiss him on the cheek. "Bye Ryan," she said, turned around again. She walked inside, and closed the door behind herself.

    "...bye Shan," he said, as he waved goodbye to the door. He turned around, and walked on.
     
  11. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    And so, after four months, this monstrocity of evil text ends. FINALLY!!! Now all that's left to do is, um...edit. 73 pages. Of text. WHY?!?!

    ----------

    Part 7

    "You're here to die," Ride On shouted. "So shut up and DIE!"

    Ride On fired his riffle, twice, nailing one of them in the chest. It would have been easier to just take them out from inside, or at least begin picking them off from the slit in the door. But that would involve being in the same room as Shannon. He was supposed to be protecting her, not leading stray bullets to her. He never expected any breaks anyways.

    Six left to go. If it weren't for his natural speed, Ride On would have already been shot. Instead, he managed to run to his left, a split second before several bullets ripped through the air where he had just been. He fired the riffle once more as he went, striking one of the targets in the leg by luck. Ride On dropped the riffle immediately after -- he was going too fast to aim it properly -- and drew his pistol.

    Three shots, and three hits. Unfortunately, Ride On only fired two of them. The bullet that hit him managed to wedge itself into the recoil buffer part of his armor, though. It slowed him down for a second, but he managed to keep moving. Four left, both targets and bullets.

    Ride On abruptly changed direction, darting to his right, and catching the group off guard momentarily. It was enough time for him to get off another two shots, hitting one of them in the chest once. The other bullet went wild. The weight of the shotgun on his back was reassuring, but he wasn't sure if he could draw it fast enough. His last two bullets would have to buy him some --

    BAM! Ride On spun around and collapsed to the ground, before he even had chance to figure out where the bullet had hit him. As he plowed into the ground chest first, he lost hold of his 14mm, and it went flying away from inertia. Pain shot up from his side, right along his rib cage. He reached around for the shotgun still tied onto his back, but a foot pinned his hand to his back before he could pull it off.

    "Hey Johnnie, what do you want to do with this guy?" the foot asked. Ride On struggled to pull his hand free, until another foot delivered a swift kick to the side he had just been shot in. His vision went fuzzy, and his hearing was drowned out so that he couldn't hear anything more than a few feet away. It felt like the world was closing in on him, collapsing.

    "I'm sure I'll think of some way to thank him. Splitting up a reward's a lot simpler with just three guys." He laughed, along with the foot and the other living member of their group. "But let's go have fun with that witch first, huh?"

    The wind began blowing dust into Ryan's face as he spat out, "You leave her alone!" He tried to pull his hand free again, as he pushed himself up with his other one. But before he could make any progress, someone kicked him in the side again. There was enough force to send him rolling across the ground in that kick, and he would have were it not for the foot that redoubled its efforts to keep him pinned to the ground. Ride On struggled to stay conscious, but the fuzzy edges around his eyes had begun to turn gray. Everything was coming diluted and distorted, through a boot grinding into his back, and a kick & a bullet he could still feel echoing in his side. Coming in warbled through his failing hearing, he managed to hear one of the voices say "All right then. I guess we'll thank you now. Don't put off 'till tomorrow, hey?" Reassuring. He could barely feel the wind send dust and debris into his face, nearly blinding his already poor vision.

    The wind..."Oh no," Ryan coughed out, as he struggled to turn his neck, to look back at the shed. But the abrupt stop of the laughter was enough to confirm what he already feared. The foot that kept him pinned down stumbled off, and the arms that belonged to the same owner began flailing. Ryan pushed himself up, fighting through the pain with a surge of adrenaline from fear. And as he looked over towards the shed, he saw the green light. That horrible full-glow from her eyes.

    He didn't bother looking over to see their three living guests be reduced to three piles of flesh and spilt insides. He could tell just by the sounds they made what was happening. The same shrieks the geckos had made before their flesh was stretched past its breaking point, and gravity brought their insides crashing to the ground. It pierced his ears, even through the layers he was under. But he was too paralyzed by those eyes to even lift his hands to cover them.

    Ryan knelt down, and lifted his gun off of the ground, just as she tilted her head to look at him. He didn't have time to brace himself before the wind knocked him backward, sending him bouncing & rolling across the dirt as he met the ground rough. With each bounce he made, he struggled to remain conscious. Even with the adrenaline, he was already in bad shape. And this time, he kept his hand clenched around his gun tight.

    When Ryan finally stopped rolling, he was some twenty feet further from where he had started. He got up back onto his feet, and raised his gun. It was impossible to properly aim with his hand shaking as it was, but Ryan still tried to point his gun at Shannon.

    "Shan, stop, please," he said, his voice trembling. Nearly a year now he had been protecting her, so that she wouldn't have to use her powers. She couldn't become the witch, just to save him. That was exactly what he was trying to avoid!

    "I...I don't want to do this! Shan, please, you have to still be inside there!" Ryan could barely hear himself, but he knew it wasn't just his failing ears. His responses were a growl from deep within her throat, a flash of light from her eyes, and an explosion from the ground, sending him into the sky. He went up, probably about seven feet, and came crashing down into the pit the eruption of dirt and plain old power had made.

    He was seeing double, and his senses were falling out of sync. His hearing came and went, alternating. He could barely stand upright anymore; he wobbled back and forth, unsteady on his feet. But his hand stayed wrapped around his gun.

    "Shan, please," he said, pleading. He couldn't...how could he possibly...

    The wind continued to howl, screaming. And Ride On raised his gun again. "Shannon!" he shouted, fighting to be heard above the roar. "Stop, right now!" And he fired, twice, straight for her chest. His clip was empty. With a distraction made, he worked his way towards her, through the wind that pushed him back and the pain that tried to take him from consciousness.

    She deflected the bullets, as he expected she would. He just needed for her to focus on something else, and hoped she couldn't use two powers at once. One of his shots went flying back at Ride n, and would have made a new hole in his head if he hadn't tilted his neck just a split second before it connected. The bullet tore across his cheek, drawing blood and scratching at his skin, but it didn't kill him. He kept pressing forward, slow for any person, even worse for himself.

    Ride On holstered his 14mm, and slid the shotgun off of his back. Everything was beginning to fade away. He could barely hear the wind. She shouted something, but he couldn't hear her. All that was left was the green light, blazing straight at him, and the pain. Ride On dropped down to one knee, to better brace himself for the shotgun's recoil. But as he took aim at the light, he realized he was actually collapsing. Before he could pull back on the trigger, his hands disappeared. Even the green light was fading away.

    "Shan, please, stop," Ryan said, soundlessly. He could move his lips, but his voice was gone. He was...dying. Desperately, Ryan moved the arms he could barely feel towards his belt. Somehow, he mustered the strength to move them, and they pulled out the stimpak he kept stored on a slit in his belt. All around him, the wind raged back and forth, like a cyclone. He could barely hear it anymore. All the light was gone.

    Ryan rolled over onto his good side, and plunged the stimpak into his chest. He couldn't even feel the needle enter. Everything faded away...

    ...and then, a surge of energy went through his body. Just opening his eyes again used up most of the energy, but Ryan had enough left to prop himself back up. To stagger inside the shed, and collapse on the floor near his bag. To dig out two more stimpaks, and inject them into himself. And, before the energy left him completely, before he faded off again, he realized that the wind was gone.

    ***

    It was impossible to tell what was real. He was lying on his back, inside the shed, his eyes wide open. When he went to move his body, he found that he couldn't. No feelings came through at all -- he was living inside a fixed point of vision, not a body, not anymore. Time accelerated around him. The sunlight that fell inside through the still-open door came and went. In a matter of seconds, less than a minute (in some sort of sense), the sun set. And time slowed.

    Nighttime, and he was afraid. Rats came into the room, and gnawed at his flesh. They tore it away, and he could only stare and blink, but not move. He blinked twice, and they disappeared. His flesh returned to normal, just as he realized that he had it again. Illusions. Hallucinations. Three stims, and he could barely hold three sips of a drink. The moon came closer, larger now. It stared back at him, with no eyes.

    Green. She had used her powers. He messed up, and she used her powers! Using them to save him, to save his life...it could cost her herself. He wasn't worth that! If he had to die so she never used them again, fine. She was all he had left. He had to protect her.

    The wind attacked him, and the moon flew towards his face. The clouds moved swiftly, unnaturally, but the moon moved in slowly. Time bent around, twisted itself up. The shed collapsed under the moon. The shed where she had to live, alone, because he couldn't do anything!!

    He struggled to move his arm, but the moon was weighing it down. He couldn't reach his gun. Without his gun, he was useless. He couldn't even protect himself without it, let alone the others. No, there weren't any others. There was just her, and he had to protect her from herself. How could he do that even with his gun?

    He couldn't. And she was gone again.

    Greg was sitting on top of the moon. He was visible only when he spoke. His normal movements seemed out of place against the flying clouds, the accelerated time affecting everything else. "If you can't beat 'em, run the hell away!" And Greg was gone, before he could even grin.

    "I can beat them!" he yelled, his head amazingly not crushed underneath the moon. It was underneath the curvature, barely. "I'll protect everybody!"

    "I don't think she needs anybody to protect her," Carl observed, floating on his back overtop of him. He was in sync with the clouds, but his voice was still as slow as normal. "She's not the one pinned down onto the floor."

    "So what?! I'll keep trying, even if it kills me!"

    Too many to count, his rough estimate of how many people with guns had appeared. The moon was gone, the shed was restored, but he was still pinned to the ground. And now there were guns pointed at him. He reached for his pistol, but his arm wouldn't move from where it lay. They fired, all of them, filling him with bullets. The blood, every last drop, drained from him. He was dead.

    Time flowed by, or whatever passed for it. He stared up at the sky, through the door. Her face. She looked down at him. Those eyes. When they weren't glowing, they were...everything. He couldn't look away from them, until she disappeared. Suddenly as she entered. Swift as a thought.

    He thought he could protect her. He thought he could protect everybody. But Carl was dead. Greg had disappeared. And she was alone. How many nights spent staring up at the moon, unable to stop thinking long enough to sleep? How many days gone by worrying about what might be happening?

    "You're not old," he said, to honor the past, looking up at Carl. He floated, blissfully unaware of how many times he had disappeared and reappeared.

    "I feel old," Carl replied. And twice now he had wound up lying on the floor of the shed, bleeding himself to death. Every third time. It was all clockwork, like that clock she dug up. Tick, tick, tick. Predictable. And it cycled around.

    Two more freebies, and then he'd nearly be killed. And this time was another free one as well. He stared helplessly as seven of the guns came back. Nothing was holding him down this time, but he still couldn't move. The guns fired, and she was gone. By red, or by green, it didn't matter. She was gone.

    He was dead. Nothing held him down, but he couldn't move. He had to be dead. Even if she hadn't saved him, she still would have been gone. Damned twice over. Carl flipped over, floating belly down, looking at him. The promise...

    "I can't do it," he said. "I just can't do it!" The guns fired again, and again. And it didn't matter what she did, and it didn't matter what he did. She was gone. He struggled to move, to do something, but he couldn't. He reached for his gun, but there was something weighing his arm down. He blinked cleared his eyes, focused on his arm...

    ...and the invisible layer that had been pulled over his eyes was lifted. Ryan was awake. He was still lying on the floor, still in the shed, and, most importantly, still alive. Again.

    But there was still something on his arm. Ryan turned his head to his side, and saw Shannon lying down next to him, on her side. Her head was resting on his arm, using it as a makeshift pillow, and she was facing away. By the sound of her breathing, she was asleep. Ryan realized that there was a blanket over him at the same time as he noticed that he wasn't cold.

    It was still night, though which night Ryan didn't know. His side still hurt, but he couldn't feel any blood coming through. Enough stims might drive him insane, but they still did their job well.

    Ryan sighed, and realized that he had been staring at the back of her head for...it was hard to tell. All that he was certain of was that, the only time he was ever sure that she was herself was when she was asleep. And that he didn't want to have her around only when she wasn't awake. Sleep did seem to be the only solution, but one day, she might not wake up. She would always be the witch, and never her.

    There had to be something he could do to prevent that. Hunting her hadn't solved anything. Protecting her only delayed when she'd have to protect herself. And he still couldn't bring himself to stay after the fight. Sometimes just looking at her eyes, those eyes he always had a hard time looking away from, was enough to make him want to swallow a gun. He had tried to kill her, for a reason so stupid he couldn't even believe it. His father was dead, but she wasn't the one who had killed him. And his father had been wrong.

    He had tried to kill her, and all he managed to accomplish was to indirectly kill Carl. Greg and his father, they might have been beyond his help, but he still had to answer for Carl. He hadn't protected anybody, in the long run.

    But she...she didn't hold any of it against him. She kept on smiling, and never brought any of it up. "It's okay," she had said, right after he realized how much he had screwed up. She didn't blame him. Instead, she forgave him. Instead, she stopped those attackers from killing him, at who knows what cost to herself.

    If Ryan was going to die, then he wanted a good reason first. If he had to die to protect them -- and them was just one person now -- then, well, that was a damn good reason. But there would still be the next group of stupid yahoos coming after her. What then? And, if he died...she saved him. Even though she might have lost herself, she still saved him. It just didn't seem right, then, to keep going with this martyr complex of his. She'd be sad, and he didn't want to see that. And he wanted to be able to see her. He couldn't do that dead.

    Ryan kept staring at Shannon, listening to her breathe. He couldn't see her face, but he knew exactly what it looked like. And he knew just what the witch looked like as well. He just didn't know how to avoid seeing her ever again. With all these fights, he was just pressing his luck. Three against one, five against one, seven against one, it was all too much. But what else was there he could do?

    He had nothing. No plan, no ideas, no instincts. Nothing.

    Ryan shook his head, and gave up on thinking. He had done too much of that already. He needed to take action, before he wound up thinking even more. But all he could do was roll over onto his own side. It hurt, but he ignored it. Rather, he just didn't care enough to bother changing his position. He put his arm around Shannon's waist, and pulled her closer. He hadn't allowed himself to get this close to her, in any sense, ever since he came back to the shed after Carl died. He still felt it was a terrible thing to do, but right now, he was just too tired to keep listening to his guilt. She didn't wake; Ryan himself was starting to drift off again. Worrying about what to do could wait until he was alive again. Right now, he just wanted to enjoy where he was while he was still awake.

    ***

    The light greeted Ryan as he awoke. And his side followed immediately after. much less pleasantly. Not surprisingly, it was still sore. It would likely slow him down for a few days, but things were always relatively calm for a while after some new group of fools came over to the shed. All that was left to do was bury them. However you bury piles.

    As Ryan got up onto his feet, he noticed Shannon was gone. She was already awake, apparently. He walked towards the door and looked out through the slit. The piles that had been their attackers not long ago -- he wasn't sure how long he had been out -- were nowhere to be seen.

    There were sounds coming from the room that counted as the kitchen, or dining room. Ryan looked over, and saw Shannon cutting something on the table. He couldn't see what over her shoulder. The table was something Greg had found thrown away in an alley in west Mangil. Carl never liked it much, so eventually he decided to just make his own, which sat in what was considered the living room.

    "Hey Shan," he said, nervous for some reason. Something wasn't right, but he hadn't figured out what. It was something his gut knew, and was keeping to itself for the time being. Maybe it was that he thought Shannon preferred the other table, like Carl had. Whenever he came over, they never used the one in the kitchen.

    "Hey Ryan," she replied, her voice shaky. "F-finally up, huh?"

    He approached her, slowly. "Yeah. What're you doing?"

    "J-just, uh...just..." Her voice was almost hysterical. Ryan stopped behind her, and looked down over her shoulder. She was slicing up a long strip of dried meat, and --

    Blood. That was what it was. There was blood on the table, dripping down onto the floor. It was running down from her arms. "Shan!" Ryan shouted, dropping down to his knees and grabbing her arms by the wrists. He shook the knife out of her hand. As he did, he saw that the blood was coming from her palms. Four deep cuts in each one. Right where her fingernails would bend down into. She looked down at her feet, and began sobbing.

    "Shan, did you -- ?" Ryan asked, not sure how to finish. She pulled her hands free, and got up. Ryan didn't react; he was too stunned to. He just watched as she ran off towards the basement. He stayed there, on his knees in a small puddle of her blood, for a minute.

    Things were getting worse. He knew that, but he didn't know what to do about it!

    Finally, he decided going after her would be a good start. Ryan got up, and followed her steps down into the basement. Like once before, a small trail of blood led the way.

    The basement was little more than a large hole in the ground that the four of them had dug. It took them months to move all that dirt, and to build up a wall with old bricks. It took them even longer to make a foundation for the rest of the shed that didn't collapse into the hole they had dug. But they had all the time in the world to finish the shed. To get the project started. That's what they thought at the time, at least.

    Immediately after stepping off the stairs, Ryan heard sobbing behind him. He turned around, and in the corner beside the stairs, Shannon had her head buried into her legs. Blood was staining her pants from her knees, where her hands were resting on.

    Ryan stood motionless. Shannon didn't look up, or make any motions to acknowledge his presence, but she must have heard him come down the stairs. The rickety things were that loud, and Carl had cringed every time he heard how poorly made (in his opinion) they were.

    Greg would have made a joke, or a fool of himself. Something to lighten the mood. Carl...Carl never would have let her get away from the table. But all Ryan could think of was to walk over to the shelf on the wall to his right, and grab the first aid kit that was waiting there. He walked over, and knelt down in front of her.

    "Give me your hands," Ryan said, taking out the gauze strip. Shannon kept her head into her legs, but slowly lifted her hands off her knees. Ryan took one, and began bandaging the wound. She had dug her fingers in deep.

    "I don't know what we're going to do," admitted Ryan, as he wrapped the gauze around her hand. "Carl, he'd know what to do anytime, but...all I know how to do is try and protect everybody." He sighed, and then chuckled slightly. "And I really haven't done that great a job."

    There was silence as he finished with her right hand. As he began wrapping up her left, he tried to think of something to say.

    "But I'm gonna keep trying, okay? I don't know how long I'll be able to, but I'm gonna keep trying anyways. Just, please, don't do this sort of thing again. If I loose you...I don't know what I'd do." He finished wrapping her left hand, and held both of them in his own. Smiling slightly, he added, "And, besides, I'm the one who's supposed to be good at getting myself beat up and bent out of shape. If you start doing that, then all I have left that I'm good at is, well, burning lizards, you know?"

    From behind her legs, Shannon half-sobbed, half-laughed quietly. A strange transition to light laugher to be sure, but at least it was a transition. "You really are stupid sometimes Ryan," she said, her head still buried into her legs. A muffled voice was definitely better than muffled crying, though. "You still have getting drunk off of water, remember?"

    "Don't remind me," Ryan said, smiling.

    Shannon looked up, and smiled back. "Thank you," she said quietly. She took her hands back, and got to her feet. Ryan followed suit, picking the first aid kit up as he did. She wiped her eyes dry with her knuckles -- one of the few clean spots on her hands -- and started walking up the stairs.

    When she was halfway up, Ryan broke free of his stare, and said, "Shan, I'm sorry."

    She turned around. "For what?"

    "For...for being so reckless. All these idiots I've been fighting...I wasn't worrying about surviving past the end of the fight." He closed his eyes, and tilted his head down. "All that mattered was getting the fight over with, and making sure they were dead at the end. I shouldn't have been doing that. It wasn't fair to you, letting myself get killed so easily." He paused. "That probably didn't come out right, but still, I -- "

    Ryan opened his eyes just in time to see Shannon's, almost glowing, right before she pulled his head down and kissed him.

    It was certainly...unexpected.

    "Ryan," she said, letting go of his neck, "you're forgiven already. Now shut up and let's go eat breakfast, all right?"

    "S-sure," he said, still slightly startled. She smiled, and turned towards the stairs. A second later, he came back to reality. He placed the first aid kit back on its shelf, and then walked after her.

    When he reached the top of the stairs, Ryan found Shannon staring down at the table she had been sitting at a few minutes ago. The blood hadn't magically disappeared since they went downstairs. "We might want to clean that up," Ryan noted, already walking towards the door. Water would certainly make the job easier.

    "Yeah," replied Shannon, following behind him.

    The first thing Ryan did after stepping out into the full light of day was to pull out his gun, and raise it at the figure that was approaching him. Of course, he hadn't reloaded it in his sleep, a thought that didn't occur to him until after he drew his weapon.

    "Woah, hey! Ryan! Put that thing down already!" the figure said. It took a second for Ryan's eyes to adjust to the much brighter outside. In that time, he realized the figure was actually --

    "Tony?" Ryan asked, surprised. Tony nodded, and Ryan put his gun away. "What're you doing out here?"

    "Stopping through," the trader replied, shrugging. "I'm heading over to Karlik right now. What are you doing here?"

    "I'm, uh..."

    "He's visiting," Shannon said, walking up from behind Ryan. "Isn't that right?"

    "...yeah." A year after he stopped his pointless hunt, & nearly half of one more since he came back, and he still had a hard time justifying being over at the shed. The only reason he even came over was because Shannon asked him to; no -- because she let him. But there were just too many bad memories for him to stay there. Still too much guilt.

    "Right, right," Tony said, a smirk across his face. Ryan thought briefly about wiping whatever thought was going through Tony's head away -- and he had a fairly good idea just what it was -- but decided against it. Tony only cared about doing business. He didn't really care about anything else -- such as the blood that was on Shannon's arms and pants -- unless he could use it to make an extra buck or two. It was a strange mix of being heartless, and being polite.

    "So do you actually have anything worth buying Tony?" Shannon asked, looking over his cart. He traveled with a very large cart, about twenty feet long and wide, with side walls three feet tall, and pulled by four brahmin. Those were the only five things he wouldn't trade, except maybe for a bigger cart or more brahmin.

    Tony grinned, and quickly moved over to his cart. "Always Shannon, you should know that," he said. "Just name something."

    "How about a towel?" Ryan asked.

    Tony stuck his hand into the cart, without even looking, and dug around. A second later, he pulled out a very used, very old towel. There were several holes in it, and the edges were coming apart. But it was still large, and still mostly intact. "Twenty coins for this lovely piece of craftsmanship."

    "Yeah, sure," Ryan said, digging into his pockets. "Beats using a shirt I guess." He pulled out the coins he had inside -- barely twenty on him -- and handed them over. Tony took the coins, almost faster than Ryan could see, and deposited the towel in his hands.

    "You look a bit strapped for cash," Tony observed. He could tell even without looking in Ryan's pants. It was a requirement for the job. "Have anything you'd like to sell off, by any chance?"

    "I haven't gone junk hunting in a long time," muttered Ryan, shrugging. "But how about it Shan -- do we have anything to sell?" There was slight concern in his voice. Mentioning their guests in any ways was something Ryan would have preferred to tread around lightly.

    Shannon nodded her head slightly. "Yeah, we have some things to sell. They're in the back. I'll, um, go get them." And she walked off, towards the garden. As Ryan watched her leave, he noticed a large mound along the side of the shed.

    "You two have some visitors?" Tony asked, not blind or stupid.

    "Had," Ryan said, still watching Shannon walk to the back of the shed. "Some of the stuff we've got might be a bit, um...messy."

    "As long as nobody's gonna shot me over it, I've got no problems."

    Shannon rounded the corner, dropping out of view. Ryan sighed, and looked over at Tony's cart. "You mind if I browse the store?" he asked, stepping up to the cart. The answer was always no.

    Inside the cart were vast piles of things, every sort of thing somebody might find in the wastes. Food, clothes, armor, weapons, ammo, trinkets, tech, water, papers, medicine, alcohol...the sheer amount of things Tony had was enormous. In the distance, Ryan could see the trader's three guards scouting out the area. Well armed, and well trained -- just the way a man with as many things as Tony would need. It made Ryan uncomfortably aware of empty his gun was.

    He dug around for 14mm ammo. It wasn't as common as .223, or 10mm, but he still managed to find some here and there. Enough to keep his gun loaded, and a clip or two in reserve for when he couldn't find any. Now was one of those times. All he could find in the massive piles that made up Tony's stores that interested him were a few stimpaks and some trinkets. Dice, matches, pencils, a cup in very good condition...

    Ryan's eyes went back over to the matches. He rarely used them, since he had good clothes and a blanket back at his house. If he ever needed a fire, he knew how to make one with some twigs, or his gun. But in the back of his mind, something was happening. The thing Greg had said to him the night before in his sleep...at least, it was definitely something Greg would have said, if he were still around. "If you can't beat 'em, run the hell away!" Aloof, sardonic...it fit Greg, all right.

    And, amazingly enough, Ryan agreed with him. And a plan formed in his mind -- quick and rough, but a plan none the less. Something he had been lacking ever since Carl stopped making them for him. Playing the situation by instinct hadn't worked. Playing it at all wasn't either. If he was really going to protect Shannon, his new plan was his best bet. All he had to do was...get Shannon to agree with him.

    "How much for the matches?" Ryan asked, lifting them out of the cart.

    "Those? Five coins. Unless you're planning on cooking something. Then I can't sell you those things at all." Tony had only tasted Ryan's cooking once -- Ryan had just sat down to eat when Tony arrived, and he traded some cooked food for a canteen. However, it was not the sort of thing that one forgot easily. And Tony had some codes of conduct to his business.

    "No, it's not for that," Ryan said, handing over the coins. "Just do me a favor, will you? You heading to Mangil?"

    "Yeah, after Karlik. It'll probably be about three days or so before we get there."

    "That's great. Listen, if you do this for me, anything that's left inside my house, you can keep. Free of charge."

    "Don't you need that stuff?"

    "No, everything I need...is here. But I just need you to do me this favor, all right?"

    "Try telling me what it is first."

    "Oh, yeah. I need you to go around the place, and spread a story. This shed, me and Shannon? We're all gone, completely gone. There was a big showdown, and no one came out of it alive, not even the shed. Understand?"

    "I, uh...yeah, sure, why not?" Tony said, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm taking everything, though. Consider it severance pay for loosing a very profitable customer."

    "Who knows, we might run into each other again. Hell, you go all over the place, right?"

    "And where might this meeting take place?"

    "I...I don't know yet. It depends on her, I guess. But you'll do it?"

    "Yeah, sure. Me and the guys'll tell everybody in Mangil you're both dead. Might even claim that reward I've been hearing about."

    "If you can, go for it. Throw a hell of a funeral for us, huh? Just make sure you tell them there's nothing left out here."

    "I got it already. You know what you're doing?"

    "...no, not really," Ryan said, sheepishly. "But that hasn't stopped me before." He looked across his shoulder, and saw Shannon approaching, carrying a few sets of armor and weapons. "Don't say anything to her, though. I still have to, uh, tell her about all this."

    "Not a problem. Good luck Ryan."

    "I've been waiting for some more of that for ten damn years now," Ryan muttered, as he walked away. He met Shannon midway to the shed. "I'm gonna go clean up a bit, okay? You need any help with that?"

    "No, I'm fine," Shannon said. Ryan couldn't see her face over all the gear she was carrying. "Am I going the right way?"

    "Yeah, Tony's right over there," Ryan replied, pointing forward, even though he knew she probably couldn't see.

    "Thanks," she said, and started walking again.

    Ryan stood where he was, watching her walk for nearly half a minute, before bringing himself back to reality. He still had to clean up that blood in the kitchen. And he still had to find a way to convince Shannon to "run the hell away" with him.

    ***

    Ryan dunked the wet half of the towel into the water bucket again. Rinsing it off seemed pointless now -- the water was tinted red -- but it did make the job a bit easier. Even if he was convinced it was redundant at that point.

    Shannon walked back inside, just as Ryan finished wiping up the last of the blood. His hands, his pants, and the towel were all sticky, but a little water could take care of that easily. Shannon must have had the same idea, because she had brought a bucket in from the well. She set it down on the table. "You might need this," she said, sitting down at the opposite end she had been at earlier.

    "Thanks," Ryan said, sitting down as well. He dunked his hands, and the towel with them, inside the bucket. There was nothing he could do about his pants at the moment.

    Ryan shook the water loose from his hands underneath the table, and dried them against his pants. Shannon went back to slicing up breakfast, the dried meat that she had been tending to earlier. Ryan remained silent, looking over at her, and thinking.

    Briefly, he wondered why he was still alive. There was an easy answer -- Shannon seemed to have some small degree of control over the witch -- but it didn't seem like the right one. The only surefire control she had over them was choosing when to start using them. After that, the control she had, from what Ryan had seen, was just enough to prevent him, Carl, and Greg from being immediately killed by her. Or, more accurately, to tell them to stay away. But was it a coincidence that she had never tried to use her breaking apart trick, the only power lethal by itself, on them? It could be that it wasn't something she could so easily summon up the power to use. And how long did it take to recharge? Days? Years? She had never used it on him, back when he was still hunting her down; maybe it was because she had been using her other, lesser powers so frequently those three years.

    It wasn't anything Ryan hadn't thought about before, though, and it still wasn't a good explanation of why he was still alive. But still, living had a strange way of helping him avoid dwelling on the issue. No point in looking a gift horse in the mouth, for long at least.

    A moment later, Ryan realized he was still staring at Shannon, and she was looking back at him. "Are you feeling okay Ryan?" she asked, confusion on her face and voice.

    "Uh, yeah." He forced himself to look over at the window for a moment, as he regained his composure. "Hey Shan..." he began, but his voice trailed off. He couldn't think of anything to add on to the sentence.

    "If you want to say something Ryan, then just go ahead and say it!" She looked out the window as well. "You didn't use to take this long to say what you were thinking..."

    "Yeah, sorry. It didn't always take me this long to think before." He was silent for nearly a minute, before an idea struck. "Let me change the subject," Ryan said, to re-focus himself. It was time to go back to work. "If you could go visit any place you wanted, where would it be?"

    "What?" Shannon asked, looking back over at Ryan with a lopsided grin on her face. "That's your question?"

    "Sure, why not?" Ryan replied, wishing he could think of something a bit less stupid to say. "Where would you go?"

    "I don't know...I heard about a vault in Rigel once."

    "So you'd go to Rigel?"

    "Well...I don't know. There's not a whole lot of reasons to go traveling, you know?"

    Shannon had to be aware of what Ryan was talking about. He could tell by the slight worry in her voice. It was best not to press the subject too hard. The important thing was that he got a town out of her. Rigel was a long ways east of Mangil; he had been there once before when searching for Greg. The route wasn't always easy, but at least the town was fairly peaceful. There was an underworld like Mangil's west side, though the local authorities managed to keep that a bit more under control. No big radiation except for a small hotspot a few dozen miles away, and good soil.

    Most importantly, they thought the story about the Witch of Mangil was just some stupid "outie" legend. All they would have to worry about in Rigel was the fact that they didn't like people from outside the Great Trading Ring too much. The same attitude could be found almost anywhere an outsider showed up.

    "How about you Ryan?" Shannon asked, bringing him back to reality. "Where would you go?"

    "Me? Um...there's not really any place I want to go. This place is nice, except for...well, the neighbors."

    "Yeah," she muttered, her gaze drifting away slightly. Sighing, she held her eyes closed for a second, and then turned back towards Ryan. "I...I was at Mangil yesterday, actually."

    "Wh..what?"

    "After you fell down, I was...so sure that you...you were..."

    "What...what happened there?" Damnit, why did he have to pass out? If he could have lasted a bit longer, he could have...

    ...stayed around to either get killed, or not be able to stop her. The rage that had quickly swelled up in Ryan subsided. He wasn't as invincible as he sometimes thought he was. There was only so much he could accomplish on his own.

    "I'm not sure, but...I don't think anything happened. It was like I was dreaming almost. Like I hadn't really been there, inside my body, until I reached Mangil. But I remember feeling angry, really angry. I was going to do something. I'm not sure what it was, but...but I can guess, you know? So I just got out of there as fast as I could. There were a few people around. I'm not sure if they saw me, but..."

    "Are you okay?"

    Shannon laughed briefly. "I'm still here, aren't I?" She sounded fairly confident, but Ryan could see her eyes roll down towards her hands. "I just slipped a bit is all. I'm fine." She smiled at him for a second, before looking back down to the jerky strip she was cutting.

    Further complications Ryan didn't need, but it was too late for that now. If somebody had seen Shannon, and recognized her, it would be obvious that the most recent group that went after her hadn't succeeded. Situation normal, in other words. Granted, it would have become apparent within a few days, but Ryan had still counted on having those days. On not having to rush the issue with Shannon, which he felt like he had to now. Tony's story might not be as believable if somebody saw her. And if somebody came to investigate...they needed to get away soon.

    "Shan, would you like to go to Rigel?" Ryan asked, figuring he might as well ask now before he lost what little nerve he had to begin with.

    "I just said so -- "

    "I mean, go for good. Live there."

    Shannon sighed, and looked up at Ryan. "I figured that was what you meant."

    "Well? How about it?"

    "...I don't know. What about the project? I mean, if we just left, wouldn't that mean that...all those years we spent on it, that we wasted them?"

    Ryan didn't have an answer for that. He still didn't have an answer for the years he knew he had wasted. The best he could come up with was that it was hard to change habits. Exactly what he was trying to do, which didn't help him much.

    "Maybe," Ryan admitted, shrugging. "But the project...it's over. We're down to just you and me now."

    "It's not over," she muttered. "It can't be over!"

    "Why not?" Ryan asked.

    "I was the one who ruined it for Carl! Things were going fine, and then I went and screwed up everything!" She practically leapt to her feet, and paced around the table. "I can't just give up on the project! I have to keep it going for him, I have to try -- "

    "That's not true Shan," Ryan said quietly, though loud enough to interrupt her.

    "Yes it is!"

    "No it's NOT!" Ryan stood up, slamming his hands down onto the table as he rose. Shannon froze in her tracks, stunned by the sudden outburst. "If anybody messed up Carl's plan, it was me or Greg! He got stuck, and I couldn't help him, or you the next day! And then I spent three more years messing things up more because I couldn't get to you in time!! It was me or Greg, Shan. Probably both of us, actually. But it wasn't you."

    "Except Carl didn't get killed over you. He got killed over me, remember? It was my fault! I can't just walk away from that like it never happened!!"

    Ryan sighed, and then closed his eyes. "Carl wanted me to do that. It took me a year and a half, and that was the second worst time in my life. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of breaking my promise to him, and coming back to ki -- 'visit' you. To make some sense of it all." Ryan breathed out a faint laugh. His eyes opened again, and looked into Shannon's. "I should have figured I wasn't the only one spending too much time blaming myself."

    She remained motionless, staring at him almost accusingly. Waiting for him to make a point.

    "Look Shan, this isn't your fault. And even if it was, Greg would still be ahead of you, and I'd be further along than both of you. If we stay here, sooner or later...you're going to die," he said, barely loud enough to be heard. "Or disappear. Carl wouldn't want either of those. So let's just leave."

    "Ryan...it's not that simple. I can't just say 'oh well, I got my brother killed, I guess I'll just pack my bags and leave'!"

    "Except you can, and believe me, the sooner you do that, the happier you'll be. It took me way too long to figure that out, and I had to almost get myself killed first before it sunk through. And I don't want to see that happen to you. Carl's not going to hold it against you, so -- "

    "It's not fair, damnit!" Shannon shouted, smashing her fists onto the table. Her head followed, falling onto her arms that she crossed over the table, as she dropped down into her chair. Ryan raised his hand for a split second, before realizing he didn't know what to do after that, and pulled it back again. "Carl didn't do a thing, and he was the one that got killed! Over me, and I can't even remember how many people I've killed!"

    Ryan decided that standing around doing nothing would accomplish just that, after doing so for a minute. He walked over to Shannon, and put his hand on her back as he knelt down beside her. He wished he could do more; he wanted to do more. But the memory of somebody, not him but someone very much like him, firing a gun at her still stung in his mind. "Knock before entering", his father had said. Boy had he listened.

    "And next time...," Shannon said, still not looking up. Ryan could hear her sobbing, muffled by her arms but still disgustingly audible. "Next time...you might get killed. I get everybody but myself killed."

    "Shan," muttered Ryan, lacking anything to say, but wanting to at least sound like he could make things better. He couldn't muster much confidence into his voice, though.

    "I have to stay here. I have t-to finish the project. There...there has to be a way. I have to make it up to Carl, somehow, I..." Shannon looked up from the table, directly at Ryan. He tried to smile, or at least looked unnerved, but he couldn't manage either. Just seeing her face like it was, wet cheeks and eyes semi-glowing from tears...damnit! He shouldn't have let her get that far. Blaming herself when he knew he had a bigger fault in all of it...damnit!

    Ryan put his arms around Shannon, and pulled her close. He hoped that, somehow, it could make things better. He was ready to try just about anything. Shannon buried her face into Ryan's shirt, dampening the parts where her cheeks and eyes pressed up against it.

    "Have to -- have to make it up, but...I don't want...don't want...you to die. Don't want anybody to die anymore. But I, I don't want you to have to leave. Don't want...I don't know anymore. I can't do it...but, Carl..."

    "Shan, let's just leave," Ryan said, forcing every ounce of strength he wasn't already using to keep from crying over seeing her cry into a smile. It wasn't a very strong one, but it was a start at getting that "happy ending" Carl said he wanted. "Let's leave, and go to Rigel, and start everything over again. And if Carl comes around, we'll just say it was my idea, okay?"

    His attempts at a joke did little to alleviate her sorrow. Greg, he was not; that much was clear. As she continued to sob into his shirt, muttering "Don't want anybody to die" and "have to make it up", Ryan tried to think of something, anything to make her smile, or just stop crying.

    "I'll go wherever you want Shan, just name the place. Rigel, Moon Bear, a...away -- " His tone dropped slightly, but he continued. "Just...tell me where to go. Whatever'll make you happy, all right?" He was close to tears now himself, more so than a moment ago.

    Shannon pulled her arms back and beat her fists up against Ryan's chest. If he wasn't wearing leather armor -- and if she wasn't in such a weak state -- it would have hurt. "I don't want you to leave," she muttered, in-between sobs. "Stop talking like that!" She brought her fists down onto his chest again, and a third time.

    Ryan was stung by that reproach, but he couldn't help smiling more because of it. "Okay Shan, sure. We'll stick together then. Anywhere you want, anywhere at all. Just...smile, please. I don't want to see you cry anymore."

    "...Ryan, I..." She looked up from where she had buried her face, up towards Ryan. He kept the smile on his face, trying hard to ignore how sad her own looked before she returned the smile. She wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve, and rested the side of her head on Ryan's chest. "I'm sorry, about all of this. About that day in the ruins, about your father, about...trying to ki..."

    "Don't worry about it Shan, I don't blame you. That's the last thing I want to do. When I did that...that was the worst time in my life. I'm sorry it took me so long to stop, or to even get back...to here." He pulled her closer, somehow. "And my dad...he shouldn't have come after you. I shouldn't have either."

    They sat there for...Ryan didn't know how long. He wasn't interested in the ticking clock he could faintly hear. But after that had passed, Shannon asked "So...when do we leave?"

    "Probably later tonight, after the sun goes down. I...I have a plan."

    "Oh, this should be interesting," Shannon replied. Ryan didn't need to see her grin to hear it. All that was left was to pull the plan off.

    ***

    The sun had set some time ago, but the roaring fire outside the shack provided ample illumination. Not that there was much to see -- if somebody was to come by, all they would find was Ryan and Shannon sitting next to each other on the porch, looking at the fire. But it was unlikely anybody would be around to see that. The fire was very large, fueling itself off of the wood that had made up the brahmin pen a few hours ago, as well as some other assorted planks Ryan and Shannon had removed from the shed. It was not something one would wish to approach; it just wasn't a very friendly looking fire. The brahmin were wandering around aimlessly not too far away. They kept their distance from the fire, but aside from that, they did not stray far.

    Ryan picked up a plank of wood from the pile behind them and tossed it into the fire. It wasn't in danger of dying any time soon, but there was no sense in conserving what they had already stripped from the shed. The only wood they really needed to worry about was the cart, well-removed from the dancing sparks and embers of the fire. Bringing it up from the basement -- Ryan wondered briefly how they had ever gotten the thing down there in the first place -- had not been easy. It weighed more than either Ryan or Shannon could comfortably pull, and only got heavier after being filled up. Fortunately, the brahmin would be pulling it the rest of the way.

    And from Mangil to Rigel was a very long way, indeed. A few hundred miles, or more importantly, a few months travel. It depended on the weather, on the route, on the towns...Carl would have been screaming at Ryan over all the variables in his plan. It probably would have been better to wait a while, and map out a definite, stable route. It definitely would have been better to wait until Ryan was back in top shape. But Shannon had her people skills (with people who weren't trying to kill her, at least), and Ryan had his guns. The variables could be damned for all he cared -- they were going to make the plan work, one way or another, and they weren't going to waste time they didn't have much of sitting around. Excluding the present moment, though. Ryan was still building up his nerve. Hence, one last fire.

    "It's nice," Shannon said, leaning against Ryan's side.

    "Hmm?" Ryan asked, a bit more from surprise at her actions than from curiosity.

    "The fire. It's terrible, considering where we got the wood from and all, but after all that...it's still pretty nice."

    "Yeah, it is," replied Ryan, his thoughts drifting to things in general as he placed his arm around Shannon. He felt a twinge of guilt at that -- he had felt it at even being there at all. It was hard to forget that he had shot at her, more than once, just a few years ago; hours ago, even. But somehow, it seemed like she did forget. And while that didn't make his guilt any easier -- in fact, it made him feel even worse if he thought about it for long -- it did make a part of him...happy.

    Ryan wondered, five years ago, if that day had gone differently...well, it was too late to do anything about it now. Carl, Greg, his father, any realistic hope of making Carl's plan work, they were all gone. Neither he nor Shannon could go back to Mangil, not without winding up in a fight. They were about to travel several hundred miles a city neither of them had spent much time in, and with as much distance as they needed to cover, it was inevitable that they would run into some trouble. A lot had gone wrong, that much was clear, and a lot more could go wrong still. But they were both still alive. And that was enough. Hell, it was more than enough -- it was all that mattered.

    "Hey."

    Ryan looked over at Shan. "Yeah?"

    "Remember that time you tried to cook that lizard?"

    "Huh? Which one, I've cooked hundreds of...oh. That one." Of all the times for her to bring that up.

    "So you do remember then." She had already begun to chuckle. Back then, she laughed for almost a week.

    "Well, I try not to, you know?" He had probably been ten at the time. They were all gathered, all four of them, in the small woods near Mangil. The woods were mostly old trees, withered and dry, but there were a few that were still living. A good place for wood, dirt, and lizards, and a bad place for anything else. Ryan had elected himself the cook that day, despite the protests of everybody else. It wasn't a good sign of his skill in that area when the first lizard he placed over the fire turned out to be still breathing.

    Shannon didn't make much of an effort to hide her laughter. "You nearly fell into the fire when it started biting at your arm!"

    "Heh, I, uh..."

    "And then, when you started chasing after it, you nearly ran right into the fire again!"

    Ryan smiled, not sure of what else to do in his defense. At least it was a bit more pleasant than most of the conversations they had been having lately. Maybe she was just trying to take her mind off of what he was going to do later that night. Better that at least one of them did.

    "And when you finally caught it, you kept throwing trees, not branches, trees, into the fire, just to make sure 'the damn lizard's dead this time'! It was almost as big as this fire by the time you were done, for just one lizard that you still undercooked! And then...and then..." Shannon tried to finish her sentence another time, but gave up afterwards and decided to just keep laughing. For that, Ryan was grateful. He didn't like being reminded of how Greg started his tradition of waking him up with dead animals. Or of how often it had happened...

    While there wasn't much Ryan could say for himself -- everything she said was true, unfortunately -- he could still take some offense at her excessive laughter. Or, at least, he could pretend to. "Hey, c'mon Shan. You know I love you, but I'm not going to let you get away with laughing at me like that. Besides, the lizard was definitely dead that time. Mission accomplished."

    "I know, but..." As Shannon trailed off, her laughter faded away. She looked up at Ryan, her face half-confused, half-surprised. "Wait, what did you just say?"

    "About the lizard? He was evil, cooking was too good for him."

    "No, no, before that."

    Ryan went over what he said in his mind, trying to figure out what Shannon was so surprised over. There was the part about the lizard. Before that, stop laughing. And before that, lo --

    Had he just said that?

    Ryan looked over, and saw that Shannon was still, impatiently, waiting for his answer. "I, um..." He didn't have any words to follow after that. He knew what he said; he just hadn't known what he had said. How could she have heard him over her laughter anyways? Still...thinking for a moment, he couldn't really see what the problem was. Even if it was an embarrassing situation, and he hadn't meant to say it...it was still true. Whether he had realized (or admitted) it or not, it was the truth.

    "I, uh, love you," Ryan half mumbled, half whispered, not quite sure of how to say it without just saying it. The whole situation struck him as awkward, more so than being laughed at over a 11-years-dead lizard.

    "What was that?" Shannon practically hissed at him, clear annoyance on her voice. But her eyes looked anxious, even more so than a second ago.

    "I said, I love you Shan," said Ryan, louder and as clearly as he could. There was no getting off the hook being quiet, and no point in hiding it either.

    Shannon looked away, towards the fire. Before she did, Ryan caught a faint smile on the corner of her mouth. It was better than nothing, but it didn't do much to ease his tension. "...that's what I thought you said," Shannon replied. The fire kept crackling and dancing with the wind that blew across the mostly flat expanse the shed was in the middle of. Besides the breathing of the two people watching it, there was no other sound. The waiting was almost too much for Ryan, but it wasn't his turn to speak.

    "I didn't know that. Not for sure, at least. I thought, maybe, but..." Shannon shut her eyes as she shook her head. "But ever since you came back...it's like you haven't really come back yet. You've been...colder. I wasn't always sure if you were coming here because of what you promised Carl...or because you wanted to."

    Ryan sighed, and said, "Shan, I'm sorry about all that."

    Shannon whipped her head around to face Ryan, her hair dancing and the light from her near-glowing eyes burning at him. In some ways, they were worse than the witch's. "Just stop apologizing and come back already Ryan! Okay?" Besides anger, which subsided quickly, her eyes had a pleading look in them -- it reminded Ryan of how he felt every time he tried calling Shannon back from the witch. Was he really that far away?

    Ryan looked at Shannon, and just as always ever since he returned to the shed, he felt guilt. He felt hatred and disgust, and he remembered the look in her eyes when he first shot her five years ago each time he looked at them. On his own, he had never been able to rid himself of those things.

    But Shannon could, and she did. Ever since he came back, he needed her permission to do almost anything. It was a sure sign of just how right she was. But she had just essentially given him her approval to move on. Her eyes, glowing with the fire's light, cut off the weights that he had been dragging along for nearly half a year now, and he could breathe again.

    "Sure thing Shan," Ryan said, smiling; not just the fake or nervous or shy smile he had been using, but rather the type he hadn't had ever since that one bad day in Mangil. "Anything you say."

    Shannon smiled back. It felt good. Ryan had been waiting a long time to see that smile again, and it had been worth it. A blink later, he realized he couldn't see her smile, but he could feel it up against his. And that was good too. He just wished he could remember which of them moved forward first. And that one of them had sooner.

    But a moment later, the fire roared as one of the planks that fueled it collapsed inwards, and it brought Ryan back. "Wait, wait," he said, pulling back (with no small amount of effort). "Maybe we should, um, hold off on all this for a bit. At least until we're on our way, you know?"

    "Maybe," Shannon said, sounding a bit disappointed, but still smiling. Her tone became much more solemn when she saw Ryan get up, still smiling at her as well, and walk over towards the fire. "Are we ready?" Her face looked frozen, and emotionless. But Ryan could guess what was going through her head.

    "Yeah, we're ready," he replied. In his hand was a long branch, from the pile of wood they had collected earlier.

    "I'll go get the brahmin," Shannon said, walking off towards where the cattle were grazing. She wasted no time getting away from the porch.

    Ryan took the branch, one of the few pieces of wood they had that wasn't from the shed, and stuck the tip of it in the fire. Once that end began to burn, Ryan pulled it out and walked back over to the shed.

    Shannon wasn't watching -- Ryan didn't need to look over to know that much. He didn't want to watch himself, but he did anyways. Shannon had the luxury of an excuse; the shed had been her home for some five years now. It would be too painful to watch it be burnt down, by one of the people who had helped build it no less. As the burner, he felt obliged to at least watch it begin.

    "Sorry Carl," Ryan whispered. "Maybe next time." And he threw the make-shift torch into the open doorway of the house. Ryan stood around only long enough to see the table inside catch fire and burn. The rest would follow soon enough.

    Shannon was waiting for him over by the brahmin. They were hitched up to a cart. Inside, there were a few things; food, ammunition, stims, blankets, some things of Shannon's that she had decided to bring along. It wasn't much, but it would last them the trip. It was enough to start over on.

    The wind blew across Ryan's face as walked up to the cart. By the time anybody in Mangil heard Tony's story, there would be nothing left but the burnt-out remains of the shed and the dirt that the wind covered their tracks in. And who would bother coming after the dead? No one, Ryan hoped.

    Ryan sat down next to Shannon in the front of the cart. Almost immediately he noticed her eyes were wet, more than they should be from just the wind. He put his arm around her, and pulled her over next to him.

    "I'm...I'm fine," she said, rubbing her eyes. Her voice disagreed with the words it carried, but they both originated from a smile. "Let's just get going."

    "Sure thing Shan. Rigel?"

    She nodded her reply, leaning her head against Ryan's shoulder. Ryan was still riding some of the effects of the stims he had taken just the other day, but he could definitely empathize with her. It had been a very long day.

    "Okay then. Let's get going."

    Ryan picked up the reigns, and whipped the air above the brahmin. Startled but still slow, they began moving, pulling the cart behind them. The pace wasn't anything better than a human could do, but that didn't matter much. They had the rest of their lives to get to Rigel. They had the rest of their lives to look forward to in Rigel. As the shed burnt down behind them, with one on the verge of sleep and the other finally fully awake, Shannon and Ryan headed out. To a place where they would never have to hear of Ride On or the witch again.
     
  12. POOPERSCOOPER

    POOPERSCOOPER It Wandered In From the Wastes

    188
    Apr 6, 2003
    And they fall in love at the end?
     
  13. Draconias Galactica

    Draconias Galactica First time out of the vault

    53
    Jun 13, 2003
    Well, that's what happens when you shoot at somebody often enough. Especially when the gun is symbolic, and represents something else (wink, nudge, kill your parents say no more, eh?)...[/BS]